The Federal Aviation Administration proposes to close more than 100 airport control towers, including seven in Kansas, as it plans to reduce its budget should sequestration take place.
The overnight shift at Wichita Mid-Continent could also be affected under the proposal.
Under the plan, only two Kansas airports would keep their control tower operations — Salina and Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
The cuts are being proposed because of the budget compromises agreed to by Congress and President Obama – starting in 2011, and again as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal made at the end of the year.
The changes could challenge safety, said Ed Young, director of aviation for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Without control towers, there’s no one to look for and separate traffic.
“It’s like taking all the stop lights out of all the intersections,” Young said. “I’m worried. The problem is, it puts a lot of pressure on the pilots to see and avoid.”
At a busy airport, “you really need to be on your ‘A’ game and then add in traffic and so forth,” Young said.
The FAA is proposing eliminating control tower operations at Forbes Field, Topeka’ Garden City Regional Airport, Hutchinson Municipal Airport, New Century AirCenter in Olathe; Manhattan Regional Airport, Johnson County Executive in Olathe; and Philip Billard Municipal Airport in Topeka.
The changes could risk scheduled service in Garden City and Manhattan, which are served by daily American Eagle flights, Young said.
The flights are “hugely successful,” Young said.
“I’m not sure what American Eagle would decide to do,” he said. “The question would be the comfort level of the scheduled carriers.”
The changes could also impact Wichita airplane manufacturers.
“All the training traffic from Lear and Cessna go up there (to Hutchinson), and they use those approaches,” Young said. “And now we’re not going to have anybody to separate the traffic. It just seems a little wacky.”
And it can impact military flights.
“At Forbes Field, you’ve got fast-moving aircraft coming up out of Vance (Air Force Base),” Young said. It’s a busy airport.
And there’s military charter flights and general aviation traffic.
“Safety is our top priority,” Ray Lahood, Transportation secretary, and Michael Huerta, FAA administrator, said in a letter to airline, airport and aircraft groups.
The proposed cuts also include furloughs for nearly 47,000 FAA employees for about one day per pay period through September, eliminating midnight shifts in more than 60 towers around the country and closing more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations a year.
It also would reduce preventative maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for National Airspace equipment.
Furloughs and the start of facility shut-downs would begin in April, the letter said.