EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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May 11, 2013

Control tower can continue operating for now

NORTH ANDOVER — The control tower at Lawrence Municipal Airport has gotten another reprieve from a possible shutdown.

Airport Manager Michael Miller said he received an email from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official yesterday announcing that the tower would continue to operate, at least through Sept. 30 — the end of the federal government’s fiscal year.

“I’m very elated with this news,” Miller said yesterday.

“It’s great that Congress has stepped up to keep the control towers around the country open through the balance of the the year. I feel that cooler heads will prevail and funding will be made available because control towers are important to safety and should not be eliminated,” Miller said.

The FAA announced in March that it would eliminate funding for 149 airport control towers around the country as part of the agency’s required $637 million in forced spending cuts. But early last month — just two days before the tower closures were to begin, phased in over a four week-period — airport officials learned the shutdowns were delayed until June 15.

“I know the budget is in a state of flux right now, but the tower chief has indicated that the funding is in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year,” Miller said.

“So, I’m optimistic,” Miller said.

But Paul Nugent, the air traffic control tower chief who has worked at the airport for close to 17 years, remained cautious in assessing the future of his job and five full-time air traffic controllers he supervises.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for the last several months and I think it will continue to be that way until the end of September,” Nugent said last night.

“But right now, I’m grateful that we will be able to continue at least until then. There will be time to look at the budget for the 2014 fiscal year. I think we provide a vital role in making sure the airport is safe for all the people who use it,” he said.

“We run 52,000 operations a year — take-offs and landings, which is more than Manchester/Boston. I think we provide a real vital service to make sure the airport is safe.”

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