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Air Traffic Tower Closures Will Strip Safety Net

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Hundreds of small airports around the country routinely operate without controllers, using procedures in place since the earliest days of aviation. Pilots are trained to watch for other aircraft and announce their position over the radio during approaches, landings and takeoffs.

But past crashes, however rare, have exposed weaknesses in that system.

On Nov. 19, 1996, a 19-seat United Express flight landing in Quincy, Ill., collided with another twin-engine turboprop that was taking off. They slammed into each other at the intersection of two runways, killing all 14 people aboard the two planes.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the probable cause was a failure of the pilots in the outbound flight to monitor the radio frequency for air traffic and to properly scan for other planes.

“If a tower was there, it’s highly likely that that accident would have been prevented,” said Hanna, who became director of the Quincy airport about two years after the crash and before moving to the job in Springfield.

The air traffic control facilities that could be closed were chosen because they are at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year. They are located in nearly every state.

The first round of closures is expected to target 173 of those towers that are run by third-party contractors, rather than FAA staff. That process could start early next month.

Those airports had to put forward arguments for why their towers should stay open, but the bar is high and few are thought to be likely to escape the cuts.

The airports can choose to pick up the cost to keep their towers open, but few are expected to be able to afford that.

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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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