UT San Diego reports that according to the Federal Aviation Administration the tower was open Tuesday, despite the federal government shutdown, but they won't say for how long. A county representative said there is no certainty in the situation, and the tower closure could remain a possibility even after the government shutdown.
The Ramona Airport control tower initially faced closure just months ago during sequestration cuts, but was saved. Now the FAA is being guarded about the future of the tower and the county and other agencies are operating in a vacuum, according to a county representative.
Ongoing fights over the federal budget, including the sequestration cuts and the current shutdown, continue to threaten 149 towers operated by contractors, such as the Ramona tower.
UT San Diego reports: "It wasn’t clear what money the FAA would use to keep operating this week or beyond."
County supervisors Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts recently said they fear the closure of the control tower at the Ramona Airport, a major base for firefighting aircraft that receive aid from the control tower in emergencies.
"The chaos and petty squabbling over the federal budget has left us in the dark about the status of the Ramona air traffic control tower just when we need it the most," Jacob said. "With the most dangerous stretch of the wildfire season bearing down on us, it's simply unacceptable that Washington, D.C., would allow the closure of a facility that is central to our aerial firefighting efforts and public safety."
She said Cal Fire has logged 1,000 sorties against wildfires from Ramona in the last six months. Operations would continue if the tower is closed, but operations would be riskier, she said.
Roberts said the federal government's "dysfunction" includes "potentially dangerous amnesia" about why the Ramona Airport has a manned control tower.
"A 1995 aerial collision between a U.S. Forest Service spotter plane and tanker actively fighting a fire killed three people and spread havoc upon those below, including the destruction of two homes," Roberts said. "Ramona is the hub for fighting wildfires in our region, which includes plentiful federal lands, and the FAA needs to keep its control tower open and not jeopardize safety to make a political budgetary point."
The cost to the federal government for operating the tower is $540,000 annually, according to the county.
-City News Service contributed to this post.