Private tower companies devastated by cuts

April 2, 2013

While local governments scramble for funds to reopen towers or send lawsuits to Washington, the immediate impact is clear: Unemployment rolls have expanded by at least 850 to 900 workers who operated contract control towers around the nation.

Shane Cordes, CEO of Midwest Air Traffic Control in Overland Park, Kan., said the effect on his company is “devastating.” He operated 69 of the 149 towers closed, and said 350 to 400 workers will lose their jobs. He said he was “quite disappointed” that a program considered to be “the epitome of cost-control for decades,” one repeatedly lauded for saving the government millions of dollars, should take a disproportionate amount of budget cuts. In a sequestration that required a 5-percent cutback government-wide, the contract tower program took what Cordes termed a “70-percent cut.”

“I believe that this program is a fantastic example of a government-industry partnership that should be mirrored, not eliminated,” Cordes said. “It is also quite disappointing that safety appears to be ‘number two’ behind politics. Air traffic control is an essential service that enhances greatly the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, and it should not be politicized.”

Another of the three companies operating contract towers, RVA Robinson Aviation, operated 96 towers before closure, but only 38 afterward. Employment at RVA was expected to drop from 560 to approximately 220. “It’s a setback, and a big one. We’ll regroup and push forward,” said Charlie Dove, president of RVA.

The final company, Serco, is publicly traded and could not officially comment on the cutbacks. Serco lost 31 towers that employed 150 people, a source said.

As this was written, the Texas Department of Transportation had hoped to fund 13 towers for 90 days as a temporary measure.