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February 26. 2014 11:09PM

Manchester, airport to fight feds on cutting tower hours

MANCHESTER — City and airport officials are pushing back against a recommendation that the control tower at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport be closed during the overnight hours due to light traffic.

In a letter to the regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, Mayor Ted Gatsas criticized the federal air traffic manager's proposal to cease operating the tower between midnight and 6 a.m.

Gatsas noted that the federal airport manager, in an internal memo, stated that there was "coordination and concurrence from all stakeholders" in making the recommendation.

"I can assure you," Gatsas wrote in the letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, "our airport management was neither coordinated with nor concurs with the proposed reduction in hours of the MHT tower."

The letter from the mayor, dated Tuesday, was copied to the state's congressional delegation.

Airport spokesman Tom Malafronte said closing the tower during the overnight hours wouldn't preclude departures and landings, but it would require the airport to rely on special navigation equipment.

"It would take some time, not only for the communications equipment, but navigation procedures would have to be coordinated with the Boston center," he said. "Our position is none of these things could take the place of having a manned tower."

Gatsas noted in his letter that there is considerable traffic in cargo planes overnight at the airport, and that the airport is a designated alternate site for flights that are diverted due to weather — not an usual occurrence during the winter. "We believe those flights and passengers warrant the same level of safety offered to others using the facility throughout the day," Gatsas wrote.

Manchester's airport has seen flight volume decline by 40 percent since 2007 and its bond rating lowered.

Airport officials in recent months have trumpeted the continuance and addition of several routes, and they noted that Standard and Poor's, in its most recent review, maintained its BBB+ bond rating for the airport.

Malafronte stressed that the proposal to reduce the operating hours at the tower was in its early phase of review.

"These are ongoing discussions with the FAA," he said. "We're hopeful when the review process is completed that ... this will lead to the best decision, which is to continue to maintain 24-hour operation of the tower."

An FAA representative could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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