4 Ariz. airports on FAA control tower closure list

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2013 10:27 AM

PHOENIX (AP) — Four small airports in Arizona are on the Federal Aviation Administration's list for potential control tower closings under the automatic budget cuts that took effect this month.

Glendale Municipal Airport, Phoenix Goodyear Airport, Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport in Bullhead City and Ryan Field in Tucson are among 238 small airports under consideration nationwide with low traffic volumes and control towers operated by contractors.

The FAA is scheduled to decide by March 18 on closing about 170 of the towers.

If they close, the FAA says the airports will remain open. However, pilots would have to coordinate takeoffs and landings themselves via radio and visual contact, as they do now at night when the tower isn't open.

The FAA has to cut $600 million under the automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1. Other savings will come from furloughing FAA employees and other actions.

A letter sent Tuesday to airport managers from FAA officials said the decision would be based solely on the national interest and won't take into account local community impacts.

The FAA said it will close 173 contract towers nationwide on April 7, while 16 others will close by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The agency also is considering closure of 49 FAA-staffed control towers.

Airport officials have until March 13 to submit arguments to the FAA for keeping their control tower open.

David Gaines, airport director at Laughlin/Bullhead International, said Thursday that he's drafting a request for exemption for the airport on the Nevada border in northwestern Arizona.

"We have lots of aircraft in and out of our airport — flight schools, students in the air, people going to the casinos," Gaines said. "The burden for a lot of the safety will fall upon the pilots" if the control tower closes.

"I'm hoping there will be enough pressure on Congress that they will find a fix and not create a safety issue for the public," he added. "I hope they adopt a resolution that will run to the end of the fiscal year and provide funding to keep the towers open."

The Tucson Airport Authority, which runs Ryan Field, is planning to send a letter Monday to the FAA and Arizona's congressional delegation.

"The Arizona Army National Guard conducts training exercises at Ryan as well as U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Air Force," said Danette Bewley, the TAA's senior director of operations and maintenance. "Locally, the closure of these facilities would result in significant job losses for controllers, for on-airport business operations and for businesses that rely on a local airport to access the national and international aviation system."

Officials with Glendale Municipal Airport said in a statement that "an ongoing, sustained closure of the tower would have negative impacts on airport operations and sustainability. Being that this is an unforeseen situation, the city has not budgeted to fund the contracted air traffic controllers. We are evaluating all options and awaiting more information from the FAA."

Officials with Phoenix Goodyear Airport didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.