Starting April 7, sequestration could soon put out the lights at 173 air traffic control towers across the nation.
Due to the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1, the FAA must slash $600 million from its budget.
Two of the towers on the FAA’s list of possible closures are in central Pennsylvania, serving the Lancaster Airport in Manheim Township, Lancaster County and the Capital City Airport in Fairview Township, York County.
The Lancaster Airport is the 4th busiest in the state, averaging 90,000 takeoffs and landings per year.
“Forty to 60 airplanes land and take off per hour,” said Airport Director David Eberly. “That’s what has me concerned, that much volume, that much traffic without a tower, keeping control, keeping separation and keeping people safe.”
Commercial pilot John Cruce of Sun Air, flies a route between the Lancaster Airport and Washington Dulles.
“It’s great having these guys here looking out for us,” he said.
For pilots like Cruce, who buckle in and use the Lancaster Airport regularly, the potential loss of the tower is troubling news.
“Taking a tower out, they can land on whatever runway they want, they’re not even required to have radios when there’s no tower,” he said.
If the Lancaster Airport tower is closed, seven air traffic controllers would lose their jobs.
Without them, it’ll be up to the pilots to communicate with one another about their positions for takeoffs and landings.
For a busy airport like Lancaster’s, with more than one runway, it’s far from ideal.
“From my perspective in operating an airport, how without a tower, at the level and the numbers we have here at Lancaster, it’s just an unsafe situation,” Eberly said.
None of the closures are set in stone just yet. Airports can send letters in to the FAA explaining why their towers should be kept open. They’ll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The decision will be based on national impact, not on local impact.
Many are also hoping our Congressional leaders can come up with some alternative budget cuts to save the towers.
If the Capital City Airport tower is closed, five people would lose their jobs.
To see the FAA’s full list of potential tower closures, click here.