Federal spending cuts may impact Texas air travel - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Federal spending cuts may impact Texas air travel

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Air travel in Texas could be impacted by federal spending cuts. Federal officials say that air traffic control towers at 25 airports across the state, including some in Central Texas, could be shut down or see hours cut back.

For a small airport, like the one in San Marcos, a control tower is beneficial, but it's not essential so pilots here can operate without it, but that means not having those extra eyes in the sky.

On a day like this one, most planes at the San Marcos Municipal Airport are grounded by the strong wind.

"If it's coming from the side you have a major control problem," said certified flight instructor George Wilhite.

When the only thing flying around is debris, there's not much need for air traffic controllers, but usually that's not the case.

"As the level of traffic flow increases the more important they become," Wilhite said.

Wilhite is a certified flight instructor with Texas State Aviation. He says students learn to fly with and without the assistance of a control tower.

"It's another tool to help us look for airplanes and sort out the traffic flow," he said.

But, federal funding which operates this control tower could be eliminated due to government spending cuts. Smaller airports around the state have been told control towers may be shut down or hours cut back beginning in April.

"It's a great amenity to have and it's a wonderful adjunct for the airport to ensure safe operations," said Stephen Alexander with the San Marcos Municipal Airport.

On average, at least 150 flights land and take off from the San Marcos airport each day. The control tower operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

"Equivalent of a police officer standing in a 4-way intersection. Without a control tower it's equivalent of a flashing red light or a stop sign or 4-way stop," Alexander said.

If the control tower at San Marcos was to be eliminated, then the students that learn to fly planes here would have to go to a different airport to learn to communicate with a control tower.

"When we have a tower at a training base then we can teach new student trainees how to utilize air traffic control and how to know the proper terminology and routinely talk to air traffic control," Wilhite said.

While airport operations would continue without traffic controllers, it's about as ideal as flying on a windy day.

"We would immediately look for alternative sources of funding," said Alexander. "Perhaps there could be some collective effort to bridge that gap funding wise so we make sure we maintain that level of operation of the tower."

The Georgetown Municipal Airport is also on this list of possible control tower closures. As for ABIA, control tower hours could be cut back over night. What this all means for passengers is you should expect some delays in the future as control towers cut back on staffing.

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