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Air Traffic Tower Closures Will Strip Safety Net

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The towers slated to close are at smaller airports with lighter traffic, and all pilots are trained to land without help by communicating among themselves on a common radio frequency. But airport directors and pilots say there is little doubt the removal of that second pair of eyes on the ground increases risk and will slow the progress that has made the U.S. air system the safest in the world.

It’s not just private pilots in small planes who stand to be affected. Many of the airports in question are serviced by major airlines, and the cuts could also leave towers unmanned during overnight hours at some bigcity airports such as Chicago’s Midway and General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. The plans have prompted airlines to review whether the changes might pose problems for commercial service that could mean canceling or rescheduling flights.

Without the help of controllers, risk “goes up exponentially,” said Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., which could see its tower close.

As part of the spending cuts that went into effect last month, the Federal Aviation Administration is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs.

Representatives of the FAA declined to discuss the effect of the cuts with The Associated Press. In two recent speeches and testimony before Congress, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stressed that safety remained the agency’s top priority. But many in the aviation sector are frustrated that the political brinkmanship in Washington has affected such a sensitive area of aviation.

Jim Montman, manager of the Santa Fe Municipal Airport, which is on the list for tower closures, said the absence of controllers raises the risk of midair collisions “or some sort of incident where somebody lands on the wrong runway. … That critical link is gone.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Apr 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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