April 4, 2013
The Honorable Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590
The Honorable Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta:
We are writing to express our strong opposition to the FAA's possible elimination of the overnight shift at the Bangor International Airport (BGR) Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) as laid out in your February 22, 2013 letter to aviation colleagues. BGR is a joint-use civilian-military airport that is vital to both the mission of our Air National Guard, and to the safety and security of our civilian air transportation system. We feel that the criteria (Order JO 7232.5G) FAA used to determine facilities for reduced operating hours, with the primary emphasis on traffic volume, do not account for the strategic role BRG fills in our nation's aviation system. We strongly encourage the FAA to consider the strategic advantages offered by BGR and maintain the airport's 24-hour per day ATCT operations.
BGR is the first major American airport encountered by airliners approaching the United States from the east and the last for airliners heading west towards Europe. As a result, BGR is a designated diversion airport of critical importance. Diversion flights are unpredictable and can be the result of inclement weather, mechanical difficulties, refueling necessity, or in-flight safety and security threats. In these situations, pilots require immediate tower and radar support in order to maximize their chances for a safe outcome. BGR has the infrastructure and personnel necessary to accommodate these difficult situations. Its position along the highly trafficked Atlantic air routes has resulted in more than 650 diversion flights to BGR since 2005, an average of more than two diversion flights per week. Reducing overnight hours at the BGR tower would inhibit the airport's ability to provide these critical services and would place the traveling public at unnecessary risk.
BGR's ATCT operations also play an important role for our nation's military and national defense. The airport is home to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, Maine Air National Guard and is a designated Noble Eagle alert site. Noble Eagle refers to Department of Defense operations related to homeland security. BGR's around the clock control tower with its full Terminal Radar services was a key determinant in choosing Bangor as a Noble Eagle alert site.
U.S. Air Force refueling tankers and combat aircraft operate out of BGR 24-hours per day, flying four different alert missions in the interest of national security. Typical missions include Air Sovereignty Alert in the Northeast and Fighter Coronet Delivery missions across the North Atlantic. Many of these missions occur during overnight hours and involve the close coordination of multiple aircraft at a time. The BGR Tower has been instrumental in ensuring safe and successful outcomes during these missions. It should also be noted that these multiple aircraft missions only count as one operation for FAA traffic count purposes, a significant flaw in the FAA's criteria for reducing operating hours.
In addition to active missions, the Maine Air National Guard and Army National Guard routinely conduct training missions out of BGR. These training exercises include regular night flights and rely on BGR's current ATCT service to reduce operational risks and prevent delays.
Finally, the elimination of overnight tower operations at BGR would negatively impact the local community and economy. If overnight hours are eliminated, many military and commercial flights would no longer be able to operate through BGR due to additional operational and insurance costs. These flights would either be eliminated or relocated to another airport, costing BGR up to $2 million in lost direct revenue and disrupting tourism throughout the surrounding communities.
Given the national significance of BGR to both civilian and military aviation, we strongly urge you to maintain the airport's full-time ATCT operations. Maintaining these hours is in the best interest of the flying public and will ensure our servicemen and women can continue their national security missions without being placed at unnecessary risk.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to working with you to address this important issue.
Susan M. Collins
Michael H. Michaud
Member of Congress
Member of Congress