LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Three air traffic control towers in Michigan are among 149 nationwide that will close as a result of federal budget cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday, prompting concern among some officials over how the airports will efficiently and safely coordinate flights.
The shutdowns are the result of the FAA's move to reduce spending by more than $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts. The airports will remain open, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves, which officials say may force the airports to cut back on the number of flights they handle.
"I don't want to run around and say the sky's falling, but are we going to be able to perform at the same capacity that we are today?" said Larry Bowron, transportation director for Battle Creek, where the W.K. Kellogg Airport will see its air traffic control tower closed.
"Are we going to ... be able to maintain the same safety record? I can't promise that," he said.
Other airports on the air traffic control closure list include Coleman A. Young in Detroit and Sawyer International in Marquette County's Sands Township.
Last month, the FAA released a preliminary list of airport control towers at risk for closure. Airports were given a chance to send comments to the agency making their case as to why a particular tower should stay open.
The FAA will start closing the towers over a four week period starting April 7. Pilots will coordinate the flights over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers, something they are trained to do.
But Bowron compared it to pulling the stoplights and stop signs from a busy intersection and telling drivers to communicate with one another about when to stop.
"You're going to have congestion and fender-benders," he said.
Jason Watt, general manager of Coleman A. Young Airport, said in a statement that while the announcement is "a significant blow to the airport," it will remain open and continue to "maintain safe and effective operations."