FAA to close control towers at 4 Arizona airports


Associated Press

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 6:30 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — Air traffic control towers at four small Arizona airports are among 149 nationwide that will be closed due to budget cuts, federal aviation officials announced Friday.

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision came a month after it released a preliminary list of 238 facilities with low traffic volumes and control towers operated by contractors that faced closures.

The control towers at Glendale Municipal Airport, Phoenix Goodyear Airport, Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport in Bullhead City and Ryan Field in Tucson will be closed through a four-week process beginning April 7.

The FAA said the airports will remain open. Pilots will have to coordinate takeoffs and landings via radio and visual contact, as they do at night when the tower isn't open.

A letter sent March 5 from FAA officials to airport managers said the decision would be based solely on the national interest and won't take into account community impact.

Airport officials had until March 13 to submit arguments to the FAA for keeping their control tower open.

David Gaines, airport director for Laughlin/Bullhead International, said he was "sorely disappointed" by the FAA's decision and would be asking the agency to reconsider.

He said the airport on the Nevada border in northwestern Arizona has heavy daily traffic with flight schools and people headed to the Laughlin casinos.

"Public safety is our No. 1 issue," Gaines said. "The pilots now bear the burden 100 percent. It's a huge responsibility."

The City of Phoenix Aviation Department, which oversees Phoenix Goodyear Airport, said it was "looking into options for continuing tower operations in the absence of the FAA."

Department officials said Airline Training Center Arizona trains pilots for Deutsche Lufthansa AG at Phoenix Goodyear Airport and has a contract with the German Air Force.

"ATCA accounts for approximately 85 percent of the takeoffs and landings at the airport. ATCA has stated that if the tower closes, they will have to move their operation, possibly to an airport outside of the United States," the Phoenix Aviation Department said in a statement.

The Tucson Airport Authority, which oversees Tucson International Airport, petitioned the FAA, with help from southern Arizona's congressional delegation, to keep Ryan Field's tower open.

Ryan Field officials said pilots "will use UNICOM, a communications frequency used at uncontrolled airports for weather and navigational information. The airport's instrument landing system, distance measuring equipment and runway end identifier lights will remain available and continue to be maintained."

Officials at Glendale Municipal Airport didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, but city spokeswoman Jen Stein said officials are exploring how to best manage air traffic and plan to consult airport users.

Stein said pilots in the meantime may operate their aircraft using the common traffic advisory frequency, which is standard protocol for flights after normal business hours at the airport.