“If the tower would go away, Vance's mission would be very restricted,” Ohnesorge said. “The Oklahoma (congressional) delegation got behind us, but we are fortunate we have Vance Air Force Base.”
Ohnesorge said he doesn't understand the FAA's rationale for closing contract towers at four Oklahoma airports. Stillwater and OU's Westheimer airport handle charter flights, including Boeing 757s, for university functions and athletic events. Lawton-Fort Sill has commercial service and helps with training missions for nearby Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“I can't imagine trying to land a 757 without a control tower,” Ohnesorge said of closing the tower in Stillwater.
Carney said larger airports such as Oklahoma City's Will Rogers are bracing for cuts, too. The FAA earlier said it may cut overnight hours for FAA-staffed control towers. That could affect insurance rates for commercial carriers and air service at the airport, she said.
The FAA said it had to cut $637 million as a result of the federal budget sequestration, roughly 5 percent of the agency's annual budget.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers, and these were very tough decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release Friday. “Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency will work with airports and operators to ensure procedures are in place to maintain safety at non-towered airports. The closures of the contract towers will begin April 7 and continue for the next four weeks on a phased basis, the FAA said.