The FAA says it could shutter towers at 238 airports nationwide. To avoid closure, communities have until March 13th to convince the FAA it would harm the national interest if their tower is shut down.
Macon’s Middle Georgia Regional airport is on the list. Manager Doug Faour says the airport would remain open, but pilots would be on their own.
“Which would mean they’d communicate amongst themselves and separate themselves to prevent collision and that type of thing.”he says.
Southwest Georgia Regional in Albany is also on the list. Airport director Yvette Aehle says Delta Commuter flights and UPS cargo flights can’t land without tower equipment telling pilots about the weather.
She says “UPS is my largest tenant and brings in the most money to our community. We are the number two cargo airport behind Atlanta. Obviously we want to keep it that way. We want to keep UPS happy.”
Aehle isn't sure if the tower is shut down whether the navigational equipment will remain.
She says “To say that we’re going to maintain the safety level, all of us are very nervous about that. Because we know that safety is FAA’s guiding principal, but how can you say we’re all going to be just as safe when you’re closing all these towers? We don’t really get it.”
Aehle says some communities may have to bear the cost of manning the towers. It is unclear what those costs could be.
As officials decide what towers to close, the FAA will only consider whether national interest would be harmed by each closure.
Doug Faour says officials with Middle Georgia Regional Airport will argue the importance of having air traffic controllers near Robbins Air Base.
“The airports property lines are roughly two miles apart, so we’re very close. And when you think about aircraft moving very quickly, two miles is not a lot of distance between the airports. So we communicate together, transitioning airplanes through each other’s airspace to provide safe transitions.” he says.
The FAA will have a final list March 18th. Airports chosen will have to shut down their towers sometime in April.
The airports at risk all have contractors running their towers for the FAA. They include Southwest Georgia Regional in Albany, Athens-Ben Epps in Athens, Columbus Metropolitan in Columbus, Fulton County-Brown Field in Atlanta, Gwinnett County- Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, Middle Georgia Regional in Macon and Cobb County-McCollum Field in Atlanta.
The bigger airports are run by the FAA directly. Those airports will be impacted by furloughs, or days of unpaid leave.
The Federal Aviation Administration says due to sequestration, it will have to cut 637 million dollars this fiscal year. TSA, customs and tower employees would be furloughed for a total of 11 days between April and September 30th.
Leaders at Savannah-Hilton Head airport says those unpaid days would come mostly from management so as not to impact tower operations and security operations.
In Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson officials expect a 10 percent reduction in staff. During peak times, the airport might have to shut down one of its five runways. That could delay flights. Security wait times for domestic passengers could be as long as 40 minutes during peak hours. And it would take more time for international passengers to get through customs.