Tower workers not clearing closure for landing

WILLIAMSTOWN – While the air traffic control tower at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport has been slated to close in May, those who work in and with the facility are willing to fight to keep it open.

“We will start a letter-writing campaign to the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation and go from there,” said local pilot and air traffic controller Mike Knopp.

Without an air traffic control tower, safety changes, not only for those in the airplanes, but also for those on the ground, will be necessary, Knopp said.

“The tower is the center of an airport’s operations, whether on the ground or in the air,” said pilot Jim Bennon, president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Aviation Association’s pilots organization.

Bob Coulter, manager of the local tower, said with the closure of the local tower, air operations will be controlled by a facility in Indianapolis, Ind., through routes, but nothing on the ground will be looked at.

“I don’t like to scare people with threats of impending accidents, but the whole point of having air traffic control is not allowing two planes to be in the same place at the same time,” Coulter said. “Without a tower here, there is no one to say that won’t happen and it is a shame.”

Airport manager Terry Moore said he is disgusted with the federal government’s quick dismissal of the safety of the country’s communities.

“I’m pretty disgusted with the government and have no faith in their decisions at this point,” he said. “They are closing one-third of the country’s air traffic control towers with what seems to be no analysis of what they do or what will happen without them.”

Moore said his biggest concern of the tower closures is the federal government does not appear to have a plan for the airports to follow once the shutdowns happen.

“It is disappointing how the whole thing transpired and that the (officials) immediately chose to close things when I’m sure some, if not all, of these 149 towers could have been kept open by cutting hours and doing other cost-cutting measures,” Moore said. “I really just want to know what the plan is so I can figure out what to do.”

For now, Moore plans to visit uncontrolled airports in the state to see how their facilities run.

“I’m working to find out procedures for non-towered airports and we will go from there,” he said.

Along with the safety factor, Coulter said there will be delays in takeoffs and landings as pilots radio with one another to use an uncontrolled facility together.

“The tower expedites things and, when closed, this whole facility will experience a certain level of delay,” Coulter said. “Things will have to slow down here and there is going to be a matter of waiting on the runways.”

Knopp said the local airport is different from other small airports because of the variety of aircraft using the facility, which will likely fall off when the tower closes its door.

“Not only do we have commercial and small general aviation planes, but also helicopters, jets and military aircraft use this facility because of the tower,” he said. “Many of these may stop coming if or when the tower shuts down.

“I really don’t know how things will work without the tower because normally uncontrolled airports are single runway with only small planes and we are a multiple runway airport with a number of varying craft,” Knopp said. “We are constantly watching the multiple crossing runways for aircraft and airport vehicles.”

Moore said that without a tower to separate the different types of aircraft, it will be up to individual pilots where they go.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” he said.

On any given day the tower oversees as many as 150 operations of planes taking off or landing and vehicles driving around the runways, Coulter said. This includes the four commercial flights a day, which is roughly 1,500 operations a year. Comparatively, Moore said the airport in Bloomington, Ill., lost its tower with 15 commercial flights daily.

“Life goes on and I’m sorry to the community I was not able to save this tower for them,” Moore said. “But the community and traveling public should not see the loss of the tower as a reason to not fly here.”

The local tower is scheduled to close May 5. Others will close in April. FAA-operated towers will close Sept. 30.