Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 9, 2013

FAA will not rescue TC airport

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY— Cherry Capital Airport will have to wait out a political standoff before it can get its navigational equipment up to speed.

That means a possible repeat of mass flight cancellations like this past weekend if severe weather returns.

Airport Director Kevin Klein hoped to convince the Federal Aviation Administration to finish retooling the airport’s instrument navigation system. But he learned furloughed employees can’t be released to work, even temporarily.

“We tried to work with the FAA to see if they could come off furlough, if they could be privately contracted out, and the answer is no,” he said.

And FAA employees can’t volunteer to work on their own time; an employee could lose his or her job or be criminally charged, Klein said.

“It’s just disappointing,” Klein said. “When we look at the national (scene) as a whole, it’s bigger than Traverse City. The problem is they’re just unwilling to compromise.”

Klein referred to the deadlock in Washington, D.C. over the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010. Some Republican lawmakers are attempting to force negotiation on the law with a partial government shutdown.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, represents the Grand Traverse region in the U.S. House. He’s deeply frustrated by the gridlock in Washington, spokesman Kyle Bonini.

Benishek proposed four measures, including one that would delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance for a year, he said.

“Dr. Benishek thinks the health care law is bad medicine for northern Michigan and he’d like to see negotiations on both sides on how we can fix it,” Bonini said.

Bonini hedged on whether Benishek would vote for a “clean” CR — a continuing resolution or temporary measure that continues funding of government agencies and programs beginning Oct. 1.

“He’s willing to look at any proposal that would help people in northern Michigan and he’s willing to negotiate, but both sides have to come together to do that,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin said the disruption at the airport is one of countless examples of why “Republicans’ rife-shot approach to the government doesn’t work.”

“No matter how many piecemeal bills the House passes, they will still leave enormous holes like this one ... “ said Levin, a Democrat.

The stalemate leaves local air travelers at risk. Part of the airport’s instrument navigational procedures must be retooled for a runway addition, but the FAA employee slated to complete the project was furloughed.

Until then, pilots won’t be able to fly if visibility is less than two miles or the cloud ceiling is lower than 900 feet. Normally, visibility has to be only a half-mile and the cloud ceiling at a 200-foot level.

For now, the weather is nice, flights are on time, and the short-term forecast looks good.

Klein has not heard of passengers switching their tickets to a different airport. Airport directors at Bishop International Airport near Flint, and Manistee County’s Blacker Airport said it’s too early to detect any uptick in passengers from Traverse City.

“We wouldn’t notice for a few weeks or a month,” said Blacker Airport Director Barry Lind.

Klein recommended travelers check the website or download a TVC app for the latest flight information.