The FAA has chosen to close control towers with less than 150,000 total operations and 10,000 commercial (airline) operations to meet its required sequestration budget cuts. The Cobb, Gwinnett and Fulton county airport control towers are scheduled to close April 7. The duration is unknown at this time. These are contract towers manned by unionized contractors rather than FAA employees, providing air traffic control services at a lower cost than similar FAA towers.
Since its inception 30 years ago, the FAA’s Federal Contract Tower (FCT) Program has been successful in providing low-cost air traffic control services to airports that otherwise would not have received these services. The FCT has increased the level of safety at these airports for pilots and the surrounding local communities. Closing these control towers will diminish the margin of safety and slow the flow of traffic.
Airports for general aviation (civilian flying other than the scheduled airlines) provide speed and efficiency to the nation’s economy, shifting resources, goods and personnel to where they are needed without delay. As a result of these closures, aircraft will land and take off without the benefit of a control tower providing separation. Pilots will have to be responsible for their own separation.
Arrivals and departures of larger, better-equipped aircraft will be slowed as there will not be any controllers at the airport to report to the distant radar controller that the runway is clear and is ready for the next aircraft to arrive. A worse-case scenario is an aircraft on approach to arrival is unable to land because the runway has not been reported clear, and the aircraft must climb back into some of the world’s most congested airspace and line up to try its approach again.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport creates the congestion over Atlanta. All of the airports in metro area work as a system to provide efficient takeoff and landing options for all types of flying activity, including commercial airline, business, personal, recreational, public safety and emergency medical flights. Air traffic control towers at the five metro Atlanta airports assure that all 1.3 million annual flights through our air space are given the highest margin of safety and efficiency available.
In Cobb County alone, we average 170 flights per day — up to a peak of 450 flights per day — and 62,000 per year. Cobb County McCollum Field provides 842 jobs dependent on airport activity, with a $112.4 million annual economic impact. More than 200 aircraft are based at McCollum. General aviation provides $1.2 billion in economic impact to the state, with over 10,000 state jobs dependent upon general aviation airport activity.
The FAA’s decision to close nearly half the air traffic control towers in the country rather than making targeted reductions in hours or service levels at all towers is a decision that should be revisited.