UPDATE: Columbia Regional Airport control tower to close by May 7

Friday, March 22, 2013 | 2:41 p.m. CDT; updated 8:10 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 23, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Regional Airport control tower is one of 149 nationwide  close sometime between April 7 and May 7, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday.

The only other FAA contract tower to close in Missouri is the Branson Airport. The tower at Jefferson City Memorial Airport is not on the closure list.

In an earlier Missourian story, city officials were quick to quell concerns that commercial air traffic at the Columbia airport would be interrupted by the plan. 

David Grizzle, chief operating officer of the FAA, notified Airport Manager Don Elliott that the move was prompted by sequestration cuts.

The city had been warned that the facility was in danger if lawmakers in Washington could not reach a compromise over budget cuts. The sequestration, or $85 billion in across-the-board government cuts, would kick in

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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