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Airport meeting comes amid fight to keep control tower

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published March 30. 2013 4:00AM
FAA-required process scheduled long before federal cuts, but manager will take questions

Groton - Ideas to generate and accommodate growth at the Groton-New London Airport will be presented Tuesday during a public session designed to gather input for an airport master plan.

The plan does not reflect the impending closure of the airport's air traffic control tower, but it does make recommendations about future improvements. A study conducted as part of the plan's development indicates that the airport is operating below capacity and is well positioned to meet a projected future rise in demand, if it comes. Any changes would be need-driven and implemented if demand grows.

The study recommends a phased construction process with substantial capital improvements coming between 2016 and 2020. The plan does not include any runway expansion, but it does recommend technology updates and improvements to existing buildings and hangars.

Since part of the study looks at the potential for job growth, the meeting comes at an awkward time for Federal Aviation Administration-contracted employees manning the airport's control tower, which along with 148 others across the country is slated for closure in the coming weeks, beginning April 7.

"I understand the schedule for these meetings had been done a year in advance. But right now we're trying to keep the tower open. The timing is off, " air traffic control manager Chet Moore said.

While there is no indication the airport is in any danger of closing because of the loss of the tower, Moore said pilots will be on their own when coordinating takeoffs and landings. Pilots already do this at night, when the tower is not open, but Moore said the closure will place more strain on controllers coordinating for outside facilities during the busy season.

Moore said the tower provides an added layer of safety.

The Groton-New London control tower is among six in the state that will close without an eleventh-hour save from legislators who continue their fight to stop the FAA cuts.

Moore said he would be available at the meeting to answer questions from the general public about the control tower and its functions.

The existing master plan for the airport was prepared in 1999. The FAA requires regular updates of all airport master plans in order to re-evaluate airfield design and assess future needs.

The master plan recommendations will be presented at 6 p.m. in the City of Groton Municipal Building auditorium. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

A preview of the final recommendations can be viewed on the documents page of the study website, at www.groton-newlondonairport-ampu.org.

Anyone unable to attend the meeting is encouraged to make comments online at that website. Comments will be collected for 30 days after the meeting, after which the final report will be posted.

In case of snow, the meeting will be moved to April 9, at the same time and location.

g.smith@theday.com

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