Editor’s note: The FAA on March 22 named the 149 federal contract towers that will begin closing April 7.
“It’s about safety and jobs,” reiterated Harrison Ford time and time again as he addressed the House General Aviation Caucus March 19. The debate about sequestration and especially the proposed closing of nearly 200 air traffic control towers provided a dramatic back drop for the long-planned meeting meant to rally members of the House and Senate to join their respective GA caucuses. Well-versed in aviation issues as always, Ford, a passionate pilot, humanitarian, and actor, called on Congress to help the FAA find ways to redistribute its sizable budget in a way that keeps the most important of the towers open. The FAA has said that many of the towers could close as soon as April 7, with official notices of closure to be sent this Friday, March 22.
The massive number of closures could have a serious impact on safety and on businesses at those airports, Ford said. Noting that some corporate and charter operators will not operate at nontowered airports, the actor said small businesses on those fields will lose business and the controllers themselves will be laid off.
Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) introduced Ford and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). Graves is co-chair of the House GA caucus with Barrow. The House caucus, which must be rebuilt with each new session of Congress, has 170 members with a goal of 218, according to Graves. Ford urged the House members in attendance to join the caucus, which works to educate members of Congress about the benefits of GA while building support for initiatives important to flying. Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives of the major aviation associations, including AOPA President Craig Fuller.
Graves and Ford, frequent flying buddies, shared stories of their backcountry trips to the mountainous Northwest. Graves complimented Ford on his flying skills, noting the challenge he faced in landing his Aviat Husky at Mile High Landing Strip in Idaho. The field is short, uphill, and with a dog-leg, but Graves said Ford tackled the strip easily in his larger de Havilland Beaver.
Ford used the opportunity to remind the media and nonpilots in attendance that the 20,000 landing facilities in the United States come in all shapes and sizes, but each serves the nation in its own way. The impact of sequestration at those served by contract towers will be especially devastating, impacting EMS operations, search and rescue, and businesses of all types. Safety may be compromised as operations leave the formerly towered reliever airports for the remaining larger towered airports, concentrating traffic in already busy airline terminals.
In closing, Graves thanked Ford for his advocacy for GA and his support in showcasing all that GA does. Ford has given hundreds of EAA Young Eagle flights, flown his Cessna Caravan to Haiti to deliver supplies after the devastating earthquake there, and used his business jet as part of the Cessna Citation Special Olympics Air Lift—including serving as chairman of the operation that harnesses hundreds of the business jets to move the Special Olympic athletes to and from their games at no cost. The actor has also performed search-and-rescue missions, including rescuing two lost hikers.
“Aviation has given me great joy,” Ford said. “One thing I stress when talking with youth about aviation is that it is a blend of fun and responsibility. You have to be in charge of the machine and also responsible to your passengers.”
As he has done before, Ford praised pilots as being good citizens who give back to their communities—a characteristic that is worth protecting, he commented.