North Myrtle Beach air traffic controller jobs still up in the air

Though Congress has approved a fix to end air traffic controller furloughs and flight delays, the future remains uncertain for many airport tower workers at smaller airports around the country.

That includes air traffic controllers working at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach.

With overcast skies and rain, Monday was a slow day for Glenn Ray, Grand Strand Airport's air traffic manager.

But during the height of tourist season, with banner planes, helicopter rides, parachuting activities and the usual tourist traffic, Ray says there can be up to 500 landings and takeoffs every day.

"Everybody has their specifics and so you need somebody there to keep all that working together," Ray said.

But soon, there may be no one in the tower to keep it all working together.

Ray says Congress's fix to the sequester budget cuts affecting the FAA did not specifically include funding for the 149 towers still set to close June 15.

"We'll be on the unemployment line," he said.

Ray and four other controllers in North Myrtle Beach work for a private contractor, not the government.

If they are laid off, pilots flying into and out of the airport will simply have to communicate with each other by radio to avoid accidents.

"I just think it would be more difficult to not have someone to get everybody in line, like at a traffic light."

Though the future of the towers scheduled for closure is uncertain, Ray is hopeful Congress will restore funding because he says there are plenty of pilot and aircraft owner groups working hard to keep the towers open.

"A lot of large associations are pushing Congress and the FAA to keep the towers, but I don't know. When it comes down to a money issue, will that influence them? I'm not certain," Ray said.

The only available air traffic control jobs are overseas, he says. He could get a job today in Dubai, but Ray says that's a long way from home.