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Air Traffic Controllers, Pilots, Business Aviation Officials Urge to Restore an Operating Control Tower to Lakefront Airport - (5/14/2007)

CONTACT:     C.W. Baker, NATCA New Orleans, 504-559-4501; Darrell Meachum, NATCA Southwest Regional VP, 817-797-6083; Chris Dancy, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assoc., 301-695-2159; Dan Hubbard, National Business Aviation Assoc., 202-783-9360  

NEW ORLEANS – An operating Federal Aviation Administration control tower at New Orleans Lakefront Airport is essential to safety and the economic recovery of New Orleans, air traffic controllers, pilots and business aviation officials said today, pointing out that there has been no operating control tower at Lakefront since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, except for a brief 10-day period around the Sugar Bowl nearly five months ago.

While the number of aircraft operating at Lakefront Airport is still below the number prior to Katrina, the airport is recovering, and aircraft operations are steadily increasing by the month. Unfortunately, so too is the number of unsafe incidents. A number of incidents have occurred that would have been easily avoided had there been an operating control tower. Some include aircraft passing each other at high speed in opposite directions on the runway or pilots having to abort landings to prevent aircraft from colliding on the runway.  

“Unsafe incidents like these will only increase as the airport gets busier,” said Darrell Meachum, the vice president of the Southwest Region for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “The good news is such incidents are easily preventable. The FAA can and must restore an operational control tower at Lakefront before an incident becomes an accident.” 

"The National Business Aviation Association is enormously supportive of efforts to revitalize and enhance Lakefront Airport," said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. "Lakefront is an important node in our system of airports, and having a tower there would be highly beneficial from a number of perspectives." 

Added Andy Cebula, executive vice president of government affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association: “Lakefront used to be a vibrant general aviation community, with two flight schools and a lot of transient traffic. Now, in addition to the tower, Lakefront’s instrument landing system remains out of service. AOPA wants to see services that enhance safety for pilots who use Lakefront returned to pre-Katrina levels.” 

The FAA is dragging its feet in the restoration of Lakefront Tower. The FAA initially committed to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to provide a mobile tower at the airport until the permanent air traffic control tower can be cleaned and restored to service. However, the FAA backed away from that commitment, citing the costs associated with providing such a safety service and implying that air traffic controllers could not safely utilize a mobile air traffic control tower at the airport. Mobile air traffic control towers are routinely and safely used in circumstances and geography identical to Lakefront Airport. The FAA also provided Senator Landrieu and other supporters of the airport numerous dates for restoring air traffic control services, each new “commitment” slipping the date further and further down the road.     

The FAA’s latest commitment to reopen the permanent air traffic control tower at Lakefront is July 1. However, substantive clean-up from hurricane damage has not even begun and this date is highly unrealistic.  

The entire Louisiana Congressional Delegation, in a letter dated May 10, called on FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to “provide a mobile tower at Lakefront Airport immediately, restore air traffic control services, and restore the permanent tower promptly.” 

NATCA commits itself to helping the FAA immediately restore air traffic control services at Lakefront and calls on the FAA to heed the Louisiana Congressional Delegation’s request for action. The safety of people utilizing and living near the airport and the economic recovery of the great city of New Orleans depends on it.  

Letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey from the Louisiana Congressional Delegation

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