CASPER, Wyo. – The FAA has proposed to cut air traffic controller hours at the Casper/Natrona County International Airport by half, according to airport director Glenn Januska.
The proposed cut will bring the control tower’s hours of operation from 16 hours a day down to eight.
Januska said he received a call last Wednesday from the FAA about their proposed reduction, which he said is proposed to go into effect as soon as Monday, May 4.
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Casper’s airport is one of 115 in the region that the FAA is aiming to cut hours in response to health concerns for staff during coronavirus, and as a response to reduced traffic at airports during the pandemic.
“Adjusting the operating hours will further protect our employees and reduce the possibility of temporary tower closures from COVID-19 exposures by ensuring enough controllers are available to staff the facilities during peak hours. It also will enable us to allocate difficult-to-source supplies where they are most needed,” said a quote from the FAA that was included in a local email raising concerns on the move.
Januska says Casper was included in a list of airports that have seen reductions in traffic ranging from 96 percent to 11 percent.
Casper’s airport has seen a 38 percent reduction in traffic, he said.
“So of those 115 towers, we rank 95, meaning there are 94 other towers that have had more traffic decrease than we have,” said Januska.
Casper’s control tower is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., operated by a staff working two 8-hour shifts.
The airport is open 24-hours, but there is almost no overnight traffic said Januska.
Among Januska’s concerns over the proposal include current construction on runways and taxiways, and the need for controllers to safely navigate aircraft around that as much as possible.
Also, he says the FAA has not indicated if or when the hours would be brought back to normal.
“We understand the need for this and what the FAA is saying, but we’ve also had somewhat of a history at the airport with the FAA taking things away,” he said.
“Even though what they’re saying is we’re going to reduce the hours until activity picks up again, once you lose something it’s always harder to get it back. How do we know this is really going to come back,” said Januska.
Local pilots have expressed concern over the proposed move. An email was circulated on Monday with a form letter addressed to the FAA that read in part, “Casper is the only full-service airport in Central Wyoming with full-time crash/fire/rescue, weather observation, precision approaches, and passenger facilities.”
“The full operation of the Casper airport is vital to safe aviation operations for the entire State of Wyoming,” it continued.
“What works in one state doesn’t work in another state,” said Januska. “Maybe what works in a control tower is different and maybe there should be a local decision made and not something from a Washington D.C. level,” he said.
Januska said after voicing concern about the runway project, the FAA said the reductions could be moved to later in May. With that, he’s hopeful the FAA is responsive to his and pilot’s concerns on proposal.