5 Mass. airport towers to close in FAA cuts

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Associated Press

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 3:30 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Five Massachusetts airports will soon lose their air traffic controllers as part of massive budget-cutting at the Federal Aviation Administration.

The towers at airports in Beverly, New Bedford, Lawrence, Worcester and Norwood will lose the controllers early next month.

The airports are among 149 nationwide facing similar cutbacks, which were announced Friday. The FAA was forced to chop $637 million from its budget as part of $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts.

None of the airports will shut down. In many cases, pilots will instead coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency, without help from ground controllers.

At Worcester Regional Airport, director Andy Davis said most airports nationwide have no air traffic control. He said Worcester operates without it daily between 9 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and has established procedures it can rely on.

"This system is used at airports around the nation and is well known and understood by aviators," he said.

The Worcester airport sees about 45,000 to 50,000 annual flights, all of them small general aviation planes or corporate planes.

In New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell said he was surprised the airports in his city and Worcester lost air traffic control services because of their importance to their local economies. New Bedford, for instance, has significant general aviation and corporate traffic, a flight school and a commercial carrier, Cape Air, he said.

"They're not obscure field strips in the hinterlands," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the airport will get by, as many now do, with an "advisory service" funded by the city and run by pilots who aren't official air traffic controllers. But he said the loss of the controllers could hurt marketing efforts as New Bedford tries to expand its general aviation and corporate aviation business.

"What troubles me the most is that having an air traffic controller is a mark of stature of an airport and we don't want any major operation in our city to be relegated to second class status," he said.

The five towers losing air traffic control were among six in Massachusetts facing the budget ax. The tower at a Westfield airport was spared.

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