Fayetteville Fights Closing Air Traffic Control Tower

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Despite being cut by national sequestration, Fayetteville’s air traffic control tower at Drake Field may continue operating, at least temporarily.

The Fayetteville City Council voted Tuesday night to temporarily fund the airport’s air traffic control tower out of the city’s own general fund at $20,342 per month. The item was suddenly added to the council’s agenda during the meeting. It passed unanimously, 7-0. The City Council also passed an item expressing displeasure with the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close Drake Field’s control tower.

Tower operations at the airport had been cut by sequestration, resulting in the loss of four full-time jobs and one part-time job, said Ray Boudreaux, Fayetteville’s director of aviation. The decision to shut down tower operations could also have made Drake Field less safe, he said.

In addition to several other duties, air traffic controllers help guide pilots on the ground and in the air near an airport. Pilots can fill the void by increasing communication, but the danger is still there without the use of a centralized guide, such as an air traffic controller, Boudreaux said.

The FAA announced in March it would close at least 149 air traffic control towers across the country. The two towers cut in Arkansas were in Fayetteville and Texarkana.

Air traffic control towers in Springdale and Rogers will likely also fall victim in a later round of cuts, expected around September, Boudreaux said.

There is no word yet on whether the five air traffic control tower jobs at Drake Field would be temporarily saved by the Fayetteville City’s Council decision, or what ultimate effect the move would have long-term on the airport.

The council also approved allowing City Attorney Kit Williams to take legal action to delay the closing of the Drake Field air traffic control tower.