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3 Michigan air traffic control towers to close

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:22 PM

The shutdowns are the result of the FAA's move to reduce spending by more than $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts. The airports will remain open, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves, which officials say may force the airports to cut back on the number of flights they handle.

"I don't want to run around and say the sky's falling, but are we going to be able to perform at the same capacity that we are today?" said Larry Bowron, transportation director at W.K. Kellogg in Battle Creek, which will see its air traffic control tower closed.

"Are we going to ... be able to maintain the same safety record? I can't promise that," he said.

Other airports on the air traffic control closure list include Coleman A. Young in Detroit and Sawyer International in Marquette County's Sands Township.

Last month, the FAA released a preliminary list of airport control towers at risk for closure. Airports were given a chance to send comments to the agency making their case as to why a particular tower should stay open.

The FAA will start closing the towers over a four week period starting April 7. Pilots will coordinate the flights over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers, something they are trained to do.

But Bowron compared it to pulling the stoplights and stop signs from a busy intersection and telling drivers to communicate with one another about when to stop.

"You're going to have congestion and fender-benders," he said.

Jason Watt, general manager of Coleman A. Young Airport, said in a statement that while the announcement is "a significant blow to the airport," it will remain open and continue to "maintain safe and effective operations."

After April 2, the airport's tower operations will be handled by the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, more than 20 miles to the southwest, he said.

Bowron said that while W.K. Kellogg was awaiting the news from the FAA, the tower handled 77 aircrafts from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, a record number of aircrafts for the airport in a one-hour period. The airport handles a number of flights from Western Michigan University's College of Aviation and the Battle Creek Air National Guard, but the FAA only considered flights with regularly ticketed passengers when looking at which towers to close, he said.

The preliminary list included three other Michigan airports with air traffic control towers at risk for closure, in addition to the three announced Friday: Ann Arbor, Jackson County-Reynolds Field in Jackson and Muskegon County in Muskegon.

The closings announced Friday only involve airports that use contractors for their towers, which means some towers from the preliminary list may still close.

Marty Piette, airport manager at Muskegon County Airport, said their air control tower is FAA staffed and has not yet received word of whether it will be closed.

Jackson County-Reynolds Field airport's air control tower will remain open, said airport manager Kent Maurer.

Jackson County is in a group of 16 airports whose towers are partially funded by the FAA. He was told those airports would continue to be funded through Sept. 30, at which point the funding will be reevaluated.

Officials at Ann Arbor Municipal Airport could not be immediately reached for comment.

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