In this file photo, a flight navigates away from the gate and onto the runway at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.
ALBANY, Ga. — Airport officials are busy filing appeals to a decision handed down by the federal government to shutter the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport's tower control center due to sequester-related cuts.
Airport Director Yvette Aehle says that the 173 airports who received notices from the FAA last week have until March 13 to justify why their towers, and the contract employees who man them, should stay open.
"We don't know how it may impact us and it appears that not many others do either," Aehle said Wednesday. "We're calling around and no one, not people from the FAA to congressional staff to the other airports, have really any idea what's going on or what could happen."
There are limited contingency plans in place for periods when the tower is understaffed those mainly entail shifting the burden of monitoring Albany's airspace to towers in Jacksonville. Those towers, however, may also be impacted by the cuts, making any backup plans the city may have difficult.
"We're working through a variety of ideas right now on ways that we can keep the tower staffed if the appeal doesn't work," Aehle said.
Those ideas include possibly contracting directly with the company who provides the controllers or hiring people directly to man the tower.
The cuts to tower staff will mostly be for contract workers and not FAA personnel Aehle said.
"Just about 75 percent of the closed towers are contract towers," Aehle said. "They're protecting their own while they're throwing the rest of us out."
The decision could potentially impact Albany's status as a cargo airport. Aehle says that UPS, which has an Albany hub, is involved in the discussions between the airport and the FAA, as are U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop's office and the office of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The impact to commercial passenger service should be minimal.
"If we do this right, no one in the general public should notice," Aehle said.