Mayor Miner calls on FAA to keep midnight shift at Hancock Airport

Mayor Stephanie Miner is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to keep the overnight shift at Hancock Airport, citing extreme weather conditions as one of the reasons to keep the shift.

The mayor also points to Syracuse's status as a "prime divert airport" for larger airports.

Last week the government placed Hancock on a list of New York airports where control towers may be closed or lose overnight operations because of automatic federal budget cuts.

The facilities that could close are Binghamton Tower in Johnson City, Francis S. Gabreski in Westhampton Beach, Niagara Falls International, Ithaca Tomkins Regional, Dutchess County in Wappingers Falls and Griffiss International in Rome.

Among 72 towers that could lose midnight shifts are Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

Below is Mayor Miner's letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta:

Dear Administrator Huerta:

On behalf of the City of Syracuse Department of Aviation, the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority, and the airlines and employees at Syracuse Hancock International Airport, we strongly urge you to remove Syracuse Hancock International Airport from the list of facilities where overnight shifts could be eliminated at the air traffic control tower. Doing so would have a devastating impact to the safety of aircraft and personnel, putting thousands of lives at risk each and every day.

Unlike most of the airports identified on the list of facilities where overnight shifts could be eliminated, Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) is located in the snowiest region of the country. With an average snowfall of 120 inches per year, and a record of 192 inches, for more than six months of the year, our snow removal operations are continuous; 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Our maintenance and operations crew rely on air traffic control to ensure their safety while on the field, and to prevent dangerous runway incursions. To endanger the lives of these individuals by allowing them access to active taxiways and runways without the direction of trained air traffic controllers is irresponsible, and antithesis to mission of SYR: to provide safe and air transportation service to the 12-county region that Syracuse Hancock International Airport currently serves.

Our record for snow removal operations has been recognized nationally by the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. SYR has received the organization's top award for snow removal operations ten times: The Balchen-Post Award is awarded to the employees of the airport that, in the judgment of the Award Selection Committee, has demonstrated excellence in the performance of snow and ice control. The safety of the men and women integral to the airport's snow and ice control plan must be a factor in the decision making process.

SYR is strategically located and considered a prime divert airport for the New York Metroplex, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. area airports. Our history of runway availability and

the services that SYR provides to domestic and international flights is unparalleled. The number of diverted aircraft has increased exponentially; in fact, SYR's TARMAC and Divert Plan was redesigned in 2012 following notification from the FAA that the number of maximum allowable diverts was overly restrictive, as SYR is considered a part of the FAA's Northeast Traffic Management Plan. The City of Syracuse intends to use 2013 AIP entitlements to repave a portion of the abandoned Runway 6-24 for use as a Remain Over Night (RON) and Diversion Apron, in order to accommodate the growing number of diversions.

Safety is paramount, and without the overnight shift, the safety of passengers and employees is at risk. Should the SYR overnight shift be eliminated, the period during which the air traffic control tower is closed will result in SYR being an "uncontrolled airport." Aircraft will be given clearance by Boston Center to land and take-off, but all other aircraft operations, commercial and general aviation, will occur without the direction and control of air traffic. Snow removal and aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment will have to rely on communication over the UNICOM system when accessing movement areas. This is very troubling, and in contradiction with the FAA's own Advisory Circular on Ground Vehicle Operations on Airports (AC No: 150/5210-20).

These represent some of the safety concerns that could become reality with the elimination of the midnight shift. Other detrimental impacts to an already distressed industry will follow, which is why we are urging you to reconsider eliminating the overnight shift at the SYR Air Traffic Control Tower. To do so would compromise the safety and security of Syracuse Hancock International Airport.


Stephanie A. Miner, Mayor

This story was compiled using information from the Associated Press