U.S. Tower Closures Appear Inevitable

 - March 21, 2013, 3:34 PM
This tower at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of 238 that could close under cost-cutting at the FAA caused by the budget sequester. The FAA will release a finalized closure list on March 22 and then close affected towers on or about April 7. (Photo: City of St. Petersburg)

A celebrity pilot who advocates for general aviation and a determined senator were no match this week for the FAA’s plans to close the towers at up to 238 U.S. airports in an effort to trim costs required under the budget sequester. The FAA planned to announce a finalized closure list on Monday, but the agency delayed its release until tomorrow due to the overwhelming number of appeals to keep the towers open.

While FAA officials were reviewing those petitions, actor and private pilot Harrison Ford–joined by NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, HAI president Matt Zuccaro and AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller, among other aviation alphabet group heads–met with the 170 members of the House General Aviation Caucus on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Ford said that “accidents are going to happen” due to the tower closures.

In the Senate, an amendment introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran that would have preserved ATC towers and other facilities targeted for closure under sequestration was shot down. The amendment was offered under the continuing resolution to maintain funding for all federal agencies throughout the current fiscal year; that resolution passed the Senate yesterday sans Moran’s amendment.

After it releases the final closure list tomorrow, the FAA plans to shut down the affected towers on or about April 7.

Comments

zooid's picture

I have been an air traffic controller for the past 26+ years, first with the USAF then as a contractor. What none of the career-administrators at DOT/FAA know is exactly how chaotic and inherently hazardous flying at these smaller airports really is.

Huerta has "promised" that safety won't be compromised because pilots "will announce their intentions on the radio". This is called CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) and it is great...except when one or more of the pilots has the wrong freq dialed in, forgot to 'push the button', has an inoperative radio, et freaking cetera. Over the years as a GA controller, I have worked *thousands* of aircraft with substandard 'Radio Shack' handhelds, cockpit noise to the point of overwhelming radio communications...and pilots who simply did not know where they were at in relation to the airport: 5 NM east rather than their reported 5NM west (bearing vs. heading), and in fact right on top of another aircraft and descending. To paraphrase Han Solo, this ain't like driving a car, boy. The traffic comes at you from above, below and both sides, too.

Pilots also have at their disposal a wonderful piece of equipment, TCAS or Traffic Collision Avoidance System. This has also been given as a reason for the redundancy of human air traffic controllers. Problem with TCAS is, it's pricey and not everyone's got it. Secondly -- and most importantly -- TCAS only works if every other plane in the equation has an operative Mode C transponder, which continuously broadcasts altitude information. If a Piper Cub with a scratchy and unreadable handheld radio and *no* transponder turns base in front of a Citation 560 (say, with your elected government official or business leader aboard), that venerable Korean War vet is gonna get a multimillion dollar jet up the tailpipe, because he does not exist, is not there, is invisible to TCAS. He's just not invisible to the physical laws of the universe, which state that two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously without mutual annihilation.

I've also heard elected administrators say that regional airports and centers will pick up the slack at these airports. Well, they've clearly never heard of the speed of light. At my airport, the next nearest radar facility is over 50 miles away. The round trip on a 'popup' radar blip at my airport to that facility is in the neighborhood of 1 minute: The decedents are already occupying the same space-time coordinates before that ATC facility even knows a safety alert needs to be issued...

Everything you've heard about how safety will be unaffected is a bald-faced lie. Safety in the form of a pair of human eyeballs, in my opinion, trumps technology, and I am a guy who once saved the American taxpayers $186 million through the correct application of a laundry list of technical innovations; I'm no Luddite.

If this goes through, people *will* die -- within the first month -- as a result of this governmental miscalculation/misrepresentation of the *truth* of what is at stake. Airplane crashes are horrible deaths ('frog in a blender events'), and they will be laid at the feet of everyone who rubber stamped these closures. And that's not even mentioning all the businesses that will have to relocate because they can't get insurance to fly in and out of untowered airports, or the impact these relocations will have on local economies that can't afford another punch in the gut...

william's picture

Very well said Zooid. We wouldn't be closing anything if the elected idiots in DC would stop spending like there is no end in sight. They could start with all of their pork barrel projects and aid to countries that hate us. If we could ever get the lies and deceipt in Washington to stop we might realize that the only problem we have is them. One can only hope that there are no deaths because of this absurdity.

R. Randall Padfield's picture

Zooid, I agree with the negative effects on safety in closing towers, and I can imagine some companies adjusting their procedures when they use non-towered airports or even considering to move to another airport for safety and operational reasons.

But your statement regarding businesses needing to relocate because they could not get insurance to fly in and out of untowered airports has us puzzled. So we contacted an aviation insurance expert we know and he provided this response: “No truth to aircraft being restricted by insurance from flying into airports without control towers. Plenty of business jets utilize non-towered airports every day.”

Can you back up your statement with information from a reliable source?

Randy Padfield, AIN

Marc's picture

I do agree with the clowns in Washington spending money that they don't have, however, there are quite a few GA airports that didn't have towers for years and there were not safety issues. It seems that a lot of smaller airports could get by without the towers. (I can give examples if needed) I have not been able to fly for awhile due to the costs getting WAY out of control, but aviation is still in my blood and I hope to get back in the air in the future. It appears to me that there are not near as many GA aircraft flying now that there was in the 80's and 90's, (I'm judging that by the number of aircraft tied down at local FBO's, less than a 1/3 of what there used to be). I hope they use a systematic approach to the closures but that would probably be asking too much. Hope I didn't ruffle too many feathers.

Marc's picture

I do agree with the clowns in Washington spending money that they don't have, however, there are quite a few GA airports that didn't have towers for years and there were not safety issues. It seems that a lot of smaller airports could get by without the towers. (I can give examples if needed) I have not been able to fly for awhile due to the costs getting WAY out of control, but aviation is still in my blood and I hope to get back in the air in the future. It appears to me that there are not near as many GA aircraft flying now that there was in the 80's and 90's, (I'm judging that by the number of aircraft tied down at local FBO's, less than a 1/3 of what there used to be). I hope they use a systematic approach to the closures but that would probably be asking too much. Hope I didn't ruffle too many feathers.

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