‘Does that even make any sense?’: Media eye tower cuts

March 22, 2013

Editor’s note: The FAA on March 22 named the 149 federal contract towers that will begin closing April 7.

Close to 200 control towers could soon go dark, and members of the news media are asking why—and what the impending closures could mean for pilots.

As the general aviation community awaited word March 22 of which contract control towers would be shut down by government sequester cuts, news media looked to AOPA and its home airport in Frederick, Md., for insight into the impact of the cuts. The Frederick Municipal Airport, built with government funds, opened less than a year ago and could now face closure after automatic budget cuts forced the FAA to cut about $600 million from its budget this fiscal year.

“Does that even make any sense here?” said CNN’s Rene Marsh, reporting from Frederick in a segment that aired March 22. The network spoke to AOPA President Craig Fuller, who has vocally opposed the cuts and suggested alternative cost-saving measures, for the story; other networks also spoke with top AOPA executives about the impact of tower closures on jobs and safety.

The FAA is looking to slash 189 towers from the program of about 250 towers, effectively gutting the contract program. AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead, who spoke with CNBC, pointed to a recent review by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General found that these contract towers delivered services comparable to that of FAA towers at a lower cost. Hearst TV looked to AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg, who also oversees the foundation’s Air Safety Institute, for insight into the potential impacts of safety. CNN’s Erin Burnett is expected to focus on cuts to the contract tower program in a segment on OutFront at 7 p.m. Eastern March 22.

Pilots will need to make themselves aware of potential changes to operations at contract tower airports to avoid confusion about airspace class and traffic patterns when the cuts go into effect; AOPA also encourages pilots who primarily operate at airports with ATC towers to refresh their knowledge of operations at nontowered airports. The association will post a list of affected towers on AOPA.org when the information becomes available March 22.