Cobb County, GA
A military helicopter taxis down the runway, its tail wheel barely making contact with the pavement. A business jet has just arrived and is making its way along the taxiway toward the ramp. A twin-engine Cessna holds short of the taxiway, headed for the departure end of the runway.
Like most urban airports, Cobb County’s McCollum Field needs a traffic cop. That’s why there are controllers in the tower that overlooks the single-runway airport. But because of uncertainty over Washington’s ability to enact a spending plan by the end of the month, Cobb County is making ready for the worst.
“It’s like having an insurance policy,” said McCollum Airport Manager Karl Von Hagel. That policy is a move by the Cobb County Commission to allow the airport to pay for a skeleton crew of air traffic controllers to keep the tower open, albeit on a curtailed basis, should the federal government shut down as threatened Oct. 1.
But that’ll be enough, said Von Hagel. The county voted Tuesday night to spend more than $261,000 that will fund controllers through the next 12 months if necessary, protecting the airport’s $112.4 million contribution to the local economy.
It’s not entirely clear whether that is necessary, but it’s sufficiently unclear to have a Plan B, Von Hagel said. While air traffic controllers directly employed by the Federal Aviation Administration will stay on the job – they’re considered essential personnel and are therefore exempt from furloughs during government shut-downs – it is not at all clear whether controllers who are employed by companies that contract with the FAA are covered.
“We’re preparing for any unintended consequences,” said Von Hagel.
The federal government has shut down 17 times since 1976. The longest shutdown was 21 days in 1995-1996 as President Bill Clinton battled Congress over spending.
In this face-off, approximately half of all the approximately 2,000,000 people who work for the government could be sent home until lawmakers reach a budget agreement starting Oct. 1.