Sequester is likely coming to Gardner – well, at least New Century AirCenter.
As part of its plan to shave $600 million from the budget, the Federal Aviation Administration will shutter 149 air traffic control towers across the country, including the tower at New Century as well as the tower at the Johnson County Executive Airport.
Lee Metcalfe, executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission, said the tower closure probably won’t make a huge difference in activity level at New Century.
“We don’t really expect a huge change,” Metcalfe said. “There will be some change, mainly because some corporate flight departments have policies against flying into uncontrolled airports, but I don’t know if it will even be noticeable.”
Of the 3,000 airports in the U.S., only about 10 percent have manned control towers.
Control towers are designed to keep pilots from running into each other.
“It is a safety issue, and I do think safety is being compromised. But there are established procedures for operations at uncontrolled airports,” Metcalfe explained.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, called the FAA’s decision to close air traffic control towers “short-sighted and dangerous.”
“Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stop lights and stop signs from our roads,” Moran said. “It is clear that this administration is putting its top-line message, that spending cannot be cut without severe consequences, before the safety and well-being of Americans.”
The FAA has informed airports that local operators can takeover control towers. However, Metcalfe said he doubts the county would be interested in funding air traffic control operations at New Century and at the executive airport. He estimates that would cost $50,000 per month per tour.
“I highly doubt the county would pay for that,” he said.
The airport commission’s annual budget is $5 million.
The tower closure also is unlikely to affect revenues at the airport, but it will affect the livelihoods of the 10 air traffic controllers who work at the two towers in Johnson County.
Metcalfe said one potential consequence of the sequester cuts is that a lot of airports and pilots may determine that control towers aren’t really necessary.
Currently, the New Century tower is unmanned from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and planes continue to land and takeoff at the airport during those hours. Approximately 50,000 planes utilize New Century each year, and Metcalfe anticipates similar numbers despite a possible tower closure.
Other Kansas air traffic control towers scheduled to be shuttered on April 7 include Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka, Hutchinson Municipal, and Manhattan Regional Airport.