Camarillo Airport – Push to Save Tower

Camarillo AirportCamarillo Airport officials hope to boost operations, protect control tower – With three weeks to go, a campaign to boost Camarillo Airport flight operations is about 8,600 comings and goings shy of its goal.

Airport officials want to break 150,000 takeoffs and landings by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. They hope that will protect Camarillo’s air traffic control tower by pushing operations over a bar set by federal officials to determine possible tower closures.

“We’re hoping that will be enough to get us off that list,” said Todd McNamee, Ventura County’s director of airports.

Last year, the airport recorded about 145,000 takeoffs and landings, which was below average for the general aviation airport and put its tower in jeopardy.

In March, federal officials put the Camarillo and Oxnard Airport towers on a long list of closures, citing the need to make sequestration cuts.

Most, including Oxnard’s, are contract towers, run by third-party contractors rather than Federal Aviation Administration staff, and were set to close this summer.

However, they got a reprieve in May when Congress allowed the use of surplus funds to keep the towers open through the end of the year.

Camarillo’s FAA-staffed tower was not set to close until March, and whether that could happen is still unclear.

Congress has not approved a 2014 budget, so the FAA does has no update on future funding, Laura J. Brown, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs, said last week.

With funding an unknown, county airport officials hope their campaign will keep the tower out of jeopardy.

“I don’t see Camarillo Airport without a tower,” said George Hanna, a pilot with Skydive Coastal. “Especially on the weekends – Saturdays and Sundays – it gets too busy that it’s impossible to operate safely without a tower.”

On a Saturday, he makes about 20 takeoffs and landings. At times, he has been eighth in line for departure, waiting on five to 10 aircraft coming in to land.

Camarillo Airport officials told pilots and posted signs about the campaign to boost operations to more than 150,000. They say that in the past few months, operations have increased 10 percent to 15 percent.

While slightly less than 150,000 for the past two fiscal years, the airport’s five-year average of takeoffs, landings and approaches is 160,000, according to an FAA report. Operations at the Oxnard Airport are significantly lower.

Pilot Victor Haluska, in Camarillo last week, said he thinks the 150,000 cutoff makes sense and that an airport with less may not need a tower. It’s taxpayer money and should be used wisely, Haluska said.

Hundreds of small airports operate without controllers, including Santa Paula’s.

But Camarillo needs its tower, said Jim Taylor, a professional pilot and aircraft manager. He has flown out of Camarillo for 10 years and said safety is the biggest reason to keep the tower open. A closure also would have financial effects, he said.

“If it’s not safe, then people are going to gravitate to an airport that has an operating tower, perhaps, or somewhere else,” said Taylor, a pilot for 38 years. “What that will do is take jobs from people who sweep container floors to people who fuel the trucks to people who work in the tower.”

Taylor said officials should look at each tower individually and examine the surrounding airspace and traffic as well as the number of operations. Camarillo and Oxnard airports share air space with the naval air station at Point Mugu. Larger airports in the region also add traffic in the area, Taylor said.

“There probably are dozens of towers you could close and still be able to operate safely,” he said. “Camarillo is not one.”