May 6, 2013

Hear a Flight Plan podcast about the effect of planned tower closures on local communities.

Mayors and other community leaders from around the country have written the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael Huerta, to ask that he reconsider closing the contract air traffic control towers at airports in their communities.

The letter, released last week by the Alliance for Aviation Across America, was supported by 70 local leaders who wanted “to express our deep concerns about the FAA’s current plans to close air traffic control towers at our community airports in order to comply with sequestration, or mandatory budget cuts to agencies. The closing of these towers will have a significant impact on our economy and local communities.”

The mayors and community leaders said the closure of control towers would not only impact the economies of their cities, but also would set back critical services such as medical evacuations, firefighting and law enforcement.

“Aviation and our local airports are a critical economic lifeline for these communities,” the letter stated, “and we simply cannot afford this type of devastating blow at a time when our communities are already struggling to recover. We ask you to reconsider this decision in light of these concerns, and look forward to working with you on this and other matters related to our communities.”

One of the mayors who signed the letter is Joe Gunter from Salinas, CA.

“What are you thinking?” he asked of Huerta during an interview with for the NBAA Flight Plan podcast. “This has a huge effect.”

Gunter said Salinas Municipal Airport (SNS), targeted for tower closure by the FAA, along with 148 other airports nationwide, is a focal point of economic activity for his town and the surrounding region, which produces a significant percentage of the world’s fresh produce.

“I understand that we’ve got to make the economy work, but this is an economy-buster. The airport here is a $40 million industry,” he said. “Now you want to affect it by shutting down the tower?”

“Everybody has been overwhelmingly saying that they’re concerned about the effect of these closures on their local community,” explained Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America. “They’re saying that the airport and aviation in general is a crucial lifeline. They want to do something to raise awareness about the value of aviation and general aviation and the airport in particular.”

The tower closure was initially scheduled by the FAA for April 7 as part of an effort by the administration to cut $637 million from the agency’s budget. But in the face of stiff opposition from aviation groups, members of Congress and community leaders, the FAA delayed the move until June, to give agency officials additional time to review the situation and discuss it with industry stakeholders and others.

Gunter said he already understands very well what the tower closure would mean to Salinas: the local economy would be affected.