Six Oklahoma airports are facing the possibility of their control towers closing under the federal sequestration budget cuts.
The FAA is planning cuts in their funding of the contract tower program.
They have published a list of airports that had fewer than 150,000 total operations last year and six Oklahoma airports are on that list.
They include Wiley Post Airport, Lawton Regional Airport, Enid’s Woodring Regional Airport, Ardmore Regional Airport, Norman’s Max Westheimer Airport and Stillwater Regional Airport.
Air traffic controllers at Stillwater Regional Airport said, during peak times, they can direct up to 90 planes an hour; that means one taking off or landing every 40 seconds.
“Most of us up here, if you look around, we’ve been doing air traffic control for over 20 years; this is all we know,” controllers Ben Fox said.
Fox said the four controllers in Stillwater are now facing the possibility of losing their jobs.
“There is concern how we’re going to make our house payments, how we’re going to support our families,” he said.
But Fox said the even bigger concern is the safety of the people who fly in and out of the airport.
Without a tower, the airport becomes known as “uncontrolled” and pilots have to communicate with each other when taking off or landing.
“And now they’re trying to decide where they fit into the sequence, where they’re going to land, where they’re going to take off. It just becomes a real risk,” Fox said.
The airport director said they’re furiously working to find ways to prevent this from happening.
“It will be dangerous, it will be dangerous,” Stillwater Regional Airport Director Gary Johnson said.
The controllers said the issue affects more than just the safety of pilots and passengers.
“They’re flying over people’s homes, they’re flying over businesses and they’re flying over the public schools where children are sitting in the classroom,” Fox said. “It’s not a matter of if something’s going to happen, it’s when and just how bad it’s going to be.”
The FAA is giving airports the opportunity to argue why their towers shouldn’t close.
But they say the only criteria they’ll consider is negative impact on national interest.
They plan to finalize the list of facility closures by March 18.