Tower Closures Equal Slippery Slope
Sequestration’s biggest hit to aviation might be closing towers ... just wait and see where that leads.
By Robert Goyer / Published: Mar 19, 2013
The most talked about effect of the so-called sequestration cuts is the closing of more than 200 contract towers around the country. If you don’t know whether your tower is a contract or FAA tower, we’re not surprised. Contract towers are efficient, safe and well run, just like their FAA counterparts (some say, even more so).
The result of turning towered fields into uncontrolled fields is predictable to those of us who have flown into and out of non-towered airports. There’s going to be confusion, especially on the part of pilots who are used to tower controllers doing the seeing-and-avoiding for them.
I’m hoping the cuts never materialize, but it’s looking more and more likely, despite the great work of GA-friendly legislators, including Jerry Moran of Kansas, and our friends at NBAA and AOPA, who are lobbying hard to fend off the closures.
If they do come down, I fear it will be the first step toward not only fewer services for GA but also increased costs. In a worst case scenario, things could start to look like Europe. How bad is that?
Friend and fellow airplane fanatic Adam Smith posted on his Facebook page the other day about his recent trip into Edinburgh, Scotland, in a light airplane, an experience he describes as an eye-opener in terms not only of sheer cost but of the extent of U.K.’s nickel and diming of GA pilots.
Imagine you're in a light single visiting Edinburgh, roughly equivalent to a Class C airport in the USA. The navigation fee, ground handling fee, security charge, four hours parking and departure fee will cost you ... wait for it ... $357.17. And if you want some avgas, that'll be $15.10 per U.S. gallon please.
Adam, who works for AOPA as senior VP for the Center to Advance the Pilot Community (he needs extra large business cards for that title), was I think merely trying to underscore how good we pilots over here have it. At my local Austin Bergstrom (an airport equivalent to Edinburgh, says Smith), flying a small single costs nothing to land (bounce as many times as you’d like), $20 to park on Signature’s ramp if you don’t buy gas, and around $7 a gallon for the gas if you do. For a grand total of, well, a lot less than it costs in Edinburgh.
When I asked Adam if Edinburgh was a worst case scenario, he replied that it was, but that the next-best case scenarios are pretty bad too.
These charges [at Edinburgh] effectively exclude GA from the larger airports (which seems to be the point of them). Next level down are the smaller licensed fields like Perth, Glenrothes, Dundee and Cumbernauld. You are looking at $12-plus per gallon and a landing fee of maybe $15. Still remember being charged for eight touch & goes in one lesson at Cumbernauld!
Adam’s point is, this is the kind of thing we join AOPA to help prevent. I couldn’t agree more, and will this year renew and expand upon my commitment to the organization. I’d advise you to do the same. If we wait until it’s too late, it will be, well, too late.
Here and there pilots can find ways to avoid the worst of the high costs, and we’re all for that. There are workarounds, at least for some of the costs. Lots of pilots use unimproved fields and club-run strips for their aviation fix, but transportation flying, as we know it in the States is an expensive affair.
My point is, we do want to draw the line in the sand right here and right now. Having the best airspace system in the world is a tremendous boon to the United States economy, not to mention an integral part of our national heritage, where the skies belong to all of us and sky-high costs are rightly seen as a way to exclude us from them.