by: Tenikka Smith Updated:
CONCORD, N.C. - The air traffic control tower at Concord Regional Airport handled more than 62,000 flights in 2013 and more than 8,000 so far this year.
A big part of the growth can be attributed to commercial flights, up 500 percent in the last two years.
Most of those flights are taken by NASCAR teams and travelers flying between Concord and Florida on Allegiant Air, which launched in December.
"These are all 50-plus or 150-plus passenger aircraft that are operating in and out almost on a daily basis,” aviation director Rick Cloutier said.
Cloutier said he's discussed the possibility of Allegiant adding more flights. He's also looking into bringing on other low-cost carriers traveling to different destinations around the country.
Allegiant sent a statement saying it supports funding for contract towers, and we do plan to work with legislators to protect contract tower funding. If funding for the Concord tower is cut, Allegiant will do a safety evaluation and work with the FAA to make a determination about alternatives and service. It is not unprecedented for Allegiant to operate in uncontrolled airspace; however, a number of conditions must be met to do so safely.
It's growth that could be stunted if the airport loses its control tower since some carriers require a manned tower in order to land.
"It's a continuing problem that seems to come up every year and it's very frustrating because it impacts growth. It impacts economic development," Cloutier said.
The airport successfully rallied to spare the tower from sequester cuts last year.
President Barack Obama's 2015 budget proposes to eliminate the guaranteed funding for the FAA Contract Tower Program.
Private pilot David Upham said he feels for the airport and tower employees facing uncertainty again.
"When they do have to deal with the uncertainty of getting termination notices that are rescinded, that's just one more thing for them to have to worry about instead of worrying about safety in the air around Charlotte," Upham said.
Once again Cloutier is urging stakeholders to reach out to federal lawmakers and ask them to make sure the spending plan secures the $149 million needed to keep the towers in operation.
Federal lawmakers have until the beginning of April to submit their funding requests to the appropriation committees.
CLICK HERE for more information on raising support for tower funding.
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