Future of San Marcos tower operators still up in the air

When the Federal Aviation Administration announced May 10 that air traffic control towers would receive funding through the end of the fiscal year, it meant Ed Mears would be secure in his position as an air traffic control operator at the San Marcos Municipal Airport for at least four more months.

The move comes after two months of discussions at the federal and state levels about funding cuts and funding restorations as well as a great deal of uncertainty for Mears and his fellow tower operators.

"It's frustrating is what it is," Mears said. "It's like you have a job three months at a time. The only plans you can make are what you're going to do if it closes."

FAA regulations require tower operators to retire at age 56, but when his time to retire from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport came in 2006, Mears was not ready to stop working.

The retirement regulations do not apply to contract tower workers, so Mears went back to work shortly after his retirement. Mears has been working at the San Marcos Municipal Airport since it opened Sept. 1, 2011.

"It's kind of a limited job field," Mears said. "What else are you going to do? It doesn't translate to a lot of things."

On clear days, Mears and the other operators will direct 200–300 aircraft from the sky to the runway.

Josh Harnagel, marketing director of RedBird Skyport in San Marcos, said the presence of the tower influenced the company's decision to locate in San Marcos in 2011.

"It was part of the decision process," Harnagel said. "We definitely wanted an airport with a control tower."

Harnagel said some of the businesses served by the airport have regulations that only allow them to fly into airports with towers.

If the towers were to close, Harnagel said he would expect to see a reduction in flight training and fuel sales at RedBird.

"We're of the opinion that there are a lot of businesses and groups and organizations that are in the same boat that we're in," Harnagel said. "It would be too much of an impact, not just in San Marcos but across the country as a whole, for [the closures] to happen."



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