The FAA published on Friday afternoon a list of the contract air traffic control towers that will close by April 7. The list is extensive and includes a number of iconic airports that are traditionally important to GA.
These include the tower at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual air show. Also on the hit list is the tower at Lakeland Linder Regional, home to the Sun 'n Fun fly-in. According to our sources, Sun 'n Fun is actively working to ensure the tower is open and operating for the air show, which starts the day after the tower closure is scheduled to take effect.
The list spares no favorites. Frederick, Maryland, home field for AOPA, is on the hit list, as is nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, and Martin State, in Baltimore, three of the major towered GA-friendly airports in the region.
Florida was hit hard, with tower closures in St. Petersburg, Ocala, Space Coast, Boca Raton, Naples, Fort Myers and ... well, the list goes on and on. Other states were hard hit as well, including Connecticutt and Mississippi, just to name a few. Which facilities were targeted appears to be a largely non-political process.
AOPA president Craig Fuller said “AOPA is extremely disappointed that the Federal Aviation Administration has taken the unnecessary and unprecedented step of closing a third of the nation’s 515 air traffic control towers, some of them newly built at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. This is no time for politics. These towers were put into operation to ensure aviation safety. By closing them, the same organization responsible for ensuring the safety of our skies is comprising that safety.
Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, said "While it appears FAA officials took some of our concerns into account – 40 towers originally slated for closure will now remain open – we are frustrated that the FAA has nevertheless chosen to move ahead with the closure of 149 facilities targeted in its original sequester-response plan. At the same time, we recognize it's critically important that we continue to cooperate with agency officials to ensure the closures that will happen are as workable as possible for our Member Companies. We will continue working with the FAA with that objective in view.
"As we have repeatedly said,” Bolen continued, “air traffic control towers play an integral role in ensuring America's aviation system remains the safest, largest and most efficient in the world. There are few services more important to all citizens, companies, and communities than aviation, so our work with the FAA will focus on containing, to the greatest degree possible, any negative effects of the agency's decision."
At this point, the closures look to be a near-certainty. Some of the towers slated to close were only recently completed and became operational within the last many months, including towers at Frederick, San Marcos and Albert Whitted in St. Petersburg. That last tower was built to withstand hurricane-force winds at a cost in excess of $2 million, using, ironically, stimulus funds from the federal government.
Those new contract tower controllers will now, presumably, have to figure out where to go from here.