Originally created 01/15/04

Tower workers seek reason to get new hotel for Masters



Augusta might be the place to visit during Masters Week, but for a group of airport control tower workers, the hotel stay is apparently just as important as the golf.

At issue was a recent request by the Federal Aviation Administration to see if Augusta Regional Airport's old hotel, which opens once annually to out-of-town traffic controllers for Masters Week, is approved by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

Buster Boshears, the director of Daniel Field Airport and interim director of Augusta Regional Airport, said the request was the result of complaints to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a union that represents controllers who are brought in to Augusta during the week of the Masters Tournament.

"They don't want to stay out there," Mr. Boshears said about the visiting workers, but he noted they would need a legitimate reason to refuse the accommodations.

Mr. Boshears said Augusta Regional determined this week that it is OSHA-approved, meaning it has properly lit exit signs and no dangerous chemicals stored.

Andrew Cantwell, a regional vice president of the union's southern region, said control tower workers who stay at the airport hotel during Masters Week file complaints every year.

"The conditions are somewhat substandard," he said. "Last year, they had a problem with the hot water. There was none. And they're always complaining about the roaches."

He said that, although it's unlikely, the FAA could take specific actions if an acceptable agreement isn't made for accommodations.

"The only choice would be for the FAA to say 'We're not going to supply controllers anymore (for Masters Week),"' Mr. Cantwell said. "I don't think they'll do that, but that's certainly an option."

It's something airport officials don't think will become a big problem. But if it continues, it could cut into Daniel Field's budget or even cause officials to not operate a control tower at Daniel Field during Masters Week - something that happens annually to help Augusta Regional coordinate arrivals and departures.

About 10 air traffic controllers are scheduled to be brought in to Augusta from throughout the Southeast to help handle additional air traffic. That's no change from last year. Half of the added work force will be at Daniel Field.

Each year, Daniel Field helps pay part of their travel expenses, setting them up at the airport hotel, operated by the Partridge Inn, because of its $135 per room cost.

"You can't find a room for $135 a night during Masters Week," Mr. Boshears said.

Mr. Boshears said Daniel Field might have to dip further into its budget to pay for a more expensive hotel if the control tower workers don't accept the airport hotel.

"Daniel Field has a real strict budget that we have to live by," he said.

If an agreement isn't made, Mr. Boshears said, a worst-case scenario option would be to "not have a control tower" at Daniel Field, leaving only one at Augusta Regional. He said the issue should be resolved another way.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.