Five Washington air traffic control towers will close to help the Federal Aviation Administration meet cuts required under budget sequestration.
The FAA released the list of 149 towers, which included those at Tacoma Narrows, Renton Municipal and Olympia Regional airports in Western Washington. Eastern Washington airports included Felts Field in Spokane and the Yakima Air Terminal. A four-week phased closure of the airports will begin April 7.
The agency initially proposed closing 189 towers, but 24 appealed the original proposal. Another 16 will remain open because they are part of a cost-share program that receives annual government funds for their towers,
The affected airport control towers are operated by firms contracted by the FAA, which was hit by a $637 million in cuts under budget sequestration.
The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.
Mark Greenman, 57, an air traffic controller at Olympia Regional Airport was blindsided by the news.
"It's kind of a shock and a hard pill to swallow," he said.
Hundreds of flights land at his airport a day. Once the towers close, he fears pilots will feel added pressure.
"You're going to have airplanes not seeing someone else and they're going to run into them. We're there to tell them about each other so they can see each other," said Greenman.
According to the FAA, the targeted towers all have fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and landings or 10,000 commercial flights a year. They cater to corporate jets and people with private planes.
"39 years of doing it and I wanted to quit on my terms, not theirs," said Greenman,
Greenman says he's hopeful he'll land on his feet, but worries for others also let go.
"If I have to flip burgers, I'll flip burgers. We'll survive it," he said.
Starting Saturday, special trainings will be available for pilots to learn how to safely operate their planes after the towers close and controllers aren't there to help them anymore.