COLUMBIA — City officials were quick to quell concerns that commercial air traffic at Columbia Regional Airport would be interrupted by the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to close the control tower at the airport.
The FAA plan, released Feb. 22, would close more than 100 air traffic control facilities, including the one at Columbia's airport, if lawmakers in Washington do not reach a budget compromise by Friday. The sequestration, or $85 billion in across-the-board government cuts, would then take effect.
Public Works spokesman Steven Sapp said the city was disappointed to find itself on the chopping block alongside the other airports, but that commercial flights would not be interrupted no matter the outcome in Washington. Other Missouri airports on the list are Jefferson City, Joplin and St. Joseph.
"We would hate to lose the service," Sapp said. The airport tower is staffed daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Four employees coordinate the arrival and departure of American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and non-commercial aircraft at the airport. Sapp said those workers, who are not city employees, are contracted through the FAA and a third party.
Sapp said he didn't believe there would be any immediate change because pilots could still communicate with one another or with an FAA program based in Springfield to coordinate arrivals and departures.
In the FAA program, called Mizzou Approach and used primarily during busy Southeastern Conference football game weekends, air traffic controllers monitor arrivals and departures at Columbia's airport.
"This simply creates a new procedure for our pilots," Sapp said.
In the FAA's letter, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wrote that the closings would be part of an effort to slash the department's budget by $600 million for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
According to The Associated Press, if the proposed cuts become official, air traffic control towers across the country could be empty as soon as April.
Besides the proposed closings, LaHood will seek to implement biweekly employee furloughs and cuts to midnight shifts in air traffic towers.
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