Controllers perched atop the air traffic control tower at Hilton Head Airport were still on the job Friday afternoon, despite the onset of federal budget cuts that could lead to tower shutdowns at small airports around the country.
"We're all still here, and we are all still working," said Bill Baird, tower manager for Robinson Aviation Inc., the contractor that runs the Hilton Head tower. "We plan on working."
It's not clear how much longer that will be true.
With the $85 billion federal budget cuts known as sequestration due to begin Friday, there is concern that the Federal Aviation Administration could sever the contracts with companies like Robinson Aviation, which performs air-traffic control services at 96 airports including Hilton Head.
CNN reported Friday that the FAA has already notified contractors that it plans to shut down towers at up to 168 U.S. airports April 1 because of the budget cuts. Contractors are used at about 250 small airports around the county, the news agency reported.
Wes Cozart, head of Robinson Aviation, told the news agency that his company is bracing for up to 77 towers being shuttered. He estimated it would affect 400 jobs.
The FAA said Friday that the tower contracts at airports like Hilton Head have not been severed. But, an official at the agency suggested there would be more clarity about the sequestration's effect on air traffic control towers next week.
Beaufort County spokeswoman Joy Nelson said county staff are not sure what if any effects the cuts will have locally.
"The county has not received any information regarding how and if sequestration will affect HHI airport flight tower," she said in an email.
Commercial flights can still land at the airport if the Hilton Head tower is affected by the cuts.
Nelson earlier this week said Hilton Head's airport could rely on Savannah-Hilton Head International airport to direct aircraft if the local tower is closed.
However, that would mean nobody is actually on site to monitor the plans as they depart and land.