Wiley Post Control Tower On Chopping Block Due To Sequester

Thursday, March 7th 2013, 6:55 pm

Big safety concerns are worrying some people in Oklahoma as local airports are on the hit list as part of the sequester in Washington D.C. The budget cuts include closing the tower at Wiley Post Airport.

The airport will stay open, but there won't be anyone up in the tower after April 7 if a deal in Washington isn't reached.

The six air-traffic controllers who work the tower at Wiley Post Airport handle around 250 to 300 takeoffs and landings a day. Once the tower closes, pilots will have to handle that duty on their own.

"It certainly is going to be less safe," said Mark Kranenburg, Director of Airports for the City of Oklahoma City.

The main concern at Wiley Post is the mix of business jets, which are very fast, and smaller Cessna planes that move much slower.

"The complexity in the traffic at Wiley Post is what concerns us," said Kranenburg.

Air-traffic controllers also point out they monitor bird activity from nearby lakes, as well as keep planes a safe distance from nearby Will Rogers airport. Without a control tower, procedures will be in place for pilots to talk to communicate with each other.

"If there's not one up there you talk on the tower frequency to other airplanes that are landing and announce your position in the traffic pattern," said Jim Hensley, who works for American Jet Charter. 

Hensley operates 11 planes in and out of Wiley Post on a daily basis. He also flies into thousands of smaller airports where there isn't a control tower and thinks Wiley Post can survive without one.

"It's still do-able. We can still handle the situation and still be safe. It's just not as safe," Hensley said.

As part of the stimulus, the federal government sank $600,000 into a runway lighting system that will be useless once the tower closes.

The FAA is allowing a comment period on the closings. The City Department of Airports says they will use that to try and keep the tower here open. Towers in Stillwater, Norman, Lawton, Enid, and Ardmore are also scheduled to close April seventh.

Kransenburg also says the tower at Will Rogers' airport is also facing some cuts. It is one of 60 the FAA plans on shutting down overnight operations.