“I view this as taking a traffic light down out here at the corner of the four lane highway,” airport advisory board member Larry Thompson told the MDJ. “Sooner or later, somebody is going to hit down there. I view this the same way. It’s just a matter of time before somebody does.”
Obama’s budget gamesmanship is putting public safety at risk. His hope, obviously, is that by shutting down more than half of the country’s airports that the public will have a hissy fit and pressure Congress to cave in to his demands.
The loss of federal funding for air traffic controllers in the Cobb tower leaves the county with several choices.
One is to cross our fingers and hope for a quick, happy ending to the sequester and restoration of funding. But that could be a mighty long wait.
The second is to do nothing and leave it up to the pilots to sort out whose turn it is to take off and land and who has the right-of-way in the overhead approaches. That would be the most cost-effective solution, but would come at the price of seriously endangering pilots, passengers and those of us on the ground.
The third option is for traffic-control functions at the tower to be paid for with local funding, either public, or preferably, private.
There’s no question the airport serves a vital function for Cobb in terms of economic development. It has a $112.4 million impact on the local economy and supports, directly or indirectly, 842 jobs. But both Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee and east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott say it’s unlikely the county would subsidize operations at the tower.
“What you’re doing if you ask the county is you’re asking the 700,000 or however many people in the county that don’t fly airplanes to subsidize operations at the airport,” Ott said.
But there are other options. The advisory committee has set up a pair of committees. One will look at changing to a no-tower operation that manages to provide pilots with the info they need in other ways. The other will look at longer-term solutions, such as reducing hours and asking for the Town Center Community Improvement District for a subsidy. While they’re at it, they could consider making the same request of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
Another possibility is increased user fees for those who take off and land and do business at the airport. McCollum was getting $700,000 from the feds that has to be made up. As a letter-writer in Wednesday’s MDJ noted, that figure could be made up simply by charging each of the 60,000 or so who land there each year a $12 fee for doing so.
User fees and contributions from the Town Center CID would certainly be a more equitable approach than expecting county taxpayers — the great majority of who have never flown in or out of McCollum and likely never will, and who experience little impact from the facility — to pick up the cost.