March 23, 2013

Allegiant flights to continue to Punta Gorda

PLATTSBURGH — The air traffic control tower at Punta Gorda Airport in Florida will be shut down next month, but Allegiant Air operations will continue as usual, at least for now.

“We are still considering all of our options, but our pilots are trained to fly in uncontrolled airspace,” Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler told the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday. “We will be working with the airport and make the necessary adjustments in order to continuing operating.”

Allegiant is the only commercial carrier at the Punta Gorda Airport; Plattsburgh is one of 11 locations served by the airline.

The destination from Plattsburgh International Airport was added in February, about two months after Allegiant began service from Plattsburgh to Las Vegas. It launched its first flight from Plattsburgh in 2007.

The Punta Gorda tower is among 149 the Federal Aviation Administration plans to close at small airports around the country in April.

The closures will not force any of those airports to shut down, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. Those procedures are familiar to all pilots.

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

The tower shutdowns come as the FAA trims $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, as part of sequestration. 

The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic. 

Plattsburgh International has no tower; it relies on the one at Burlington International Airport, which was not targeted by the FAA cuts.

The airports closest to the North Country affected by tower closures are in Ithaca and Rome.

Travelers come from around the region and Montreal to catch Allegiant flights from Plattsburgh; destinations also include Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

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