Sequester cuts to shutter control towers at local airports

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. - Hundreds of air traffic controllers at small airports nationwide will lose their jobs next month, when budget cuts stemming from the so-called sequester will shutter nearly 200 control towers unless the federal government acts next week to spare them.

Johnson County Executive Airport is one of seven airports in Kansas that lose its control tower, which regularly handles as many as several hundred flights per day. Five towers in Missouri, including those at the Jefferson City and Columbia regional airports are on the FAA list of towers to be closed.

"Domestically we operate 85 control towers around the United States and the proposal right now is to close 73 of those," said Shane Cordes, CEO of Midwest Air Traffic Control. "Its going to have a devastating impact on our business nationally."

Between Kansas and Missouri more than 100 tower personnel expect to lose their jobs.

Is your local airport's control tower on the FAA's closure List? |

"The whole crew will be out of a job and we won't be able to come back next week like we had to take a day off like the other agencies do. That's pretty much it. We'll be unemployed," said Bob Giabbai, who has spent the last nine years as a supervisor in the Johnson Count Executive Airport tower.

Critics of the closure plans say that aviation safety will be compromised by the elimination of air traffic controllers at smaller airports.

"Pilots will be flying now around the airport facility where aircraft tend to be the closest together without the eyes and ears of air traffic controllers who are indeed there to help them get into and out of the airport safely," Cordes said. 

Some lawmakers believe the contract tower program, in which private contractors run towers and are paid by the Federal Aviation Administration, is being disproportionately targeted by the sequester cuts, and have filed an amendment to protect the program.

"I know firsthand the importance of maintaining commercial air service in communities across Kansas, and am frustrated that the Administration has decided to once again play politics that could negatively impact our state's economic future," wrote Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, who introduced the amendment.

After announcing the planned closures earlier this month, the FAA gave airports until March 13 to present arguments as to why it was in the "national interest" to spare their tower. The FAA planned to announce their final closure decisions on March 18, but due to a high volume of filings the agency told tower operators today that their final decision would be delayed until March 22.

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