The Federal Aviation Administration is cutting the hours the air traffic control tower is open at Monterey Regional Airport and about 100 other airports as a way to reduce the spread of Covid-19 among controllers, the agency announced April 22. The new hours—8am-4pm—translate into a reduction of nine hours from MRY's usual hours of 6am-9pm.
A closed tower does not mean flights are shut down during those hours, however. The FAA said the temporary changes that go into effect later this month are not expected to impact operations. When a local tower closes, a regional radar facility with oversight assumes the airspace to direct traffic, including military flights.
“These facilities have seen a significant reduction in flights, especially during the evening and nighttime hours, since the pandemic began,” according to the FAA announcement. “Adjusting the operating hours will further protect our employees and reduce the possibility of temporary tower closures from Covid-19 exposures by ensuring enough controllers are available to staff the facilities during peak hours.”
Earlier in response to the pandemic, the FAA assembled teams of air traffic controllers who work together for an entire work week to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination within the workforce. That way if one controller becomes infected, only that person's team would enter into quarantine.
An exact start date for the reduced hours was not immediately available from the Monterey Peninsula Airport District or the FAA.
Monterey Regional Airport saw a sharp drop in commercial flights after the pandemic took root. It went from an average of 15 flights in and 15 flights out each day to just four in and out. Most of those flights are nearly empty of passengers. Kenneth Griggs, manager of airport operations, told the Weekly that a majority of passengers the past few weeks have been medical personnel and National Guard members.