Sequester Could Close Local Air Traffic Towers

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Major spending cuts out of Washington, D.C., set to take place this Friday, will impact most Arkansans, including at the airport.

Included in the proposed sequester cuts is the Federal Aviation Administration's plans to save $600 million by shutting down 100 air traffic control towers around the country.

This will affect local airports including Rogers, Springdale, Fort Smith, and Drake Field in Fayetteville.

"If that tower is not open, then it’s an uncontrolled environment. Aircrafts can still come and go, but they won’t have the air traffic control facility to sequence their arrivals and departures and provide them with departure clearances and stuff like that,” said John Parker, Fort Smith Regional Airport director. "It wouldn't be good for them to go away. It’s much better and safer to have the tower operational.

"But even here at Fort Smith during the midnight hours we don't have anyone in the tower, the airport remains open and aircrafts come and go through those hours."

“Right now, Springdale Airport has several air traffic control here on site," said Bill Adams, a pilot in Springdale. "What you could see is the FAA saying the tower is no longer needed or the personnel is no longer needed, and they'll put that responsibility to somewhere else.”

Adams said losing air traffic control would make flying much more difficult.

"I'm basically flying blind except to just looking constantly, trying to find other traffic," he said. "Because you have to know that there are no yellow lines or stop signs in the air. It's all open area so you have to look for traffic."

Parker said Fort Smith's situation is different in many ways. The tower is the only one that has approach control radar which monitors and gives clearance for aircraft in the region.

It also has a U.S. Department of Defense component, handling aircraft for the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.

"With A-10's that are still here, they would still have the flying that they would have to participate in,” Parker said. "The A-10's would bring a different aspect to in and around an un-towered airport."

Parker said there have been no details on how the airport will be directly affected and what the sequester means for jobs, but he said by the end of the week, the FAA is required to notify workers who would be impacted. And Fort Smith airport officials hope to learn more details at that time.