News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 23, 2013

FAA to close 149 air traffic control towers

Terre Haute International-Hulman Field tower not on list of closures

TERRE HAUTE — Air traffic control towers at airports in Gary and Columbus will be closed as the Federal Aviation Administration slashes hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget due to automatic federal spending cuts.

The FAA released a final list Friday of 149 air traffic control facilities that it will close at small airports around the country starting early next month. Gary/Chicago International Airport and Columbus Municipal Airport were on the list.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency without no help.

0The Gary/Chicago airport in northwest Indiana is in the midst of a $162 million expansion aimed at helping it become the region’s third major air hub behind Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports. The Times of Munster reported the FAA rejected an appeal by the airport to keep its tower open.

But the airport’s director, Steve Landry, told Chicago station WBEZ-TV on Thursday that planes already take off and land there without control tower assistance from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“It will not affect the safety of the airport. It will however affect the efficiency of air traffic into and out of the airport,” Landry said.

Commercial carrier Allegiant Air, which has two flights weekly from Gary to Florida, has said it will continue to fly into Gary despite the tower shutdown, Landry told The Times of Munster.

Like Gary/Chicago, the tower at Columbus doesn’t operate overnight. The tower is only operational from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“They should still be able to land here. They just won’t have a tower to speak to,” Melinda Finley, the Columbus airport’s office manager, told The Associated Press on Friday. “They’ll just have to speak to each other.”

Columbus airport director Brian Payne was unavailable for comment and did not respond to an email from the AP.

The Monroe County Airport was on the preliminary list of possible tower closures, but its director, Bruce Payton, told the AP on Friday the tower there isn’t likely to face closure until September because it’s part of a federal cost-sharing program.

Payton wrote a letter to the FAA to argue against closure, noting that many top military officials fly into Bloomington on their way to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center nearby. He says one recent visitor was Navy Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Payton also cited the proximity of Indiana University and the Cook Group.

All of the airports targeted for tower shutdowns have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations per year. Of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

The tower at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field was not on the list of closures, and that “is good news,” said Bill McKown, executive director. “It seems like we’re out of the woods for awhile.”

Some factors that could be working in the Terre Haute airport’s favor include the opening of ISU’s Flight Academy this summer and an FAA-funded rehabilitation of one of the smaller runways, McKown said. Also, the FAA trains beginning controllers “fresh out of controller school” at the Terre Haute airport, he said.

He did not know whether flight control tower staff would be affected by furloughs.

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