Stillwater Airport's Air Traffic Control Tower To Be Shut Down

Saturday, March 23rd 2013, 10:45 am
By: News 9

Budget cuts are taking a toll on some airports across the metro and state. Dozens of air traffic controllers will soon be out of jobs as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)has agreed to shut down control towers next month.

For the next two weeks, pilots flying in and out Stillwater Regional Airport have the luxury of air traffic controllers inside the tower.

But after April 7, Stillwater's five controllers will be out of jobs and the tower will be empty.

"You add more risk in flying in and out of the airports that do not have that," says Gary Johnson, Stillwater Airport director.

Johnson says because the FAA is closing the tower to cut costs, Stillwater is going to see a dramatic drop in fuel sales, operations and safety.

"It's possible that some people will avoid coming here during busy times just because of the safety aspect," Johnson said.

In addition to Stillwater, the FAA will cut towers at Wiley Post, Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport and the University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport.

But some aviators feel without controllers, pilots will have to go back to the basics.

“It's not going to be just total chaos like a lot of people think, they're going to leave and it's going to be total chaos, planes are going to be running into one another, no, it's not,” says SkyNews9 HD pilot Jim Gardner. “I mean, you're taught and trained in the beginning to deal with those situations, controlled or not."

Ken Carson of Westheimer Airport says the safety risk will be like “taking away a traffic light at a four-way stop. It can be crazy, but nothing we can’t handle.”

Stillwater has about 200 take-offs and landings each day that's why Johnson says he is looking into hiring its own controllers once the FAA contract ends.

"We’re still going to be open 24 hours a day,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we will find a way to keep the tower open and maintain that level of safety."

The FAA originally planned to cut around 189 control towers across the country, but spared 40 towers like one in Enid and Ardmore because of national interest.Wiley Post and Westheimer airports still receive approach controls from Will Rogers World airport because of the close distance.

The FAA will close 149 control towers across the country in four-week phases starting on April 7.