Air traffic control towers at four airports in Oklahoma will close starting in April because of across-the-board budget cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.
The cuts affect contractors that operate towers at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City; the University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport in Norman; Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport; and Stillwater Regional Airport.
Enid's Woodring Regional Airport, which had been on a list the agency circulated in early March for possible cuts, will remain open. The Enid airport control tower was one of 24 identified by the FAA as being in the “national interest.”
In all, the FAA will close 149 towers operated by contractors across the country. The agency kept 16 federal contract towers open under a “cost-share” program, including the tower at Ardmore Municipal Airport. Those contract towers are funded by statute and are not subject to the across-the-board cuts required by sequestration.
Karen Carney, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City's three airports, said airport officials haven't received any direction from the FAA on how to integrate Wiley Post's tower closure into their operations. The city's airport authority also operates Will Rogers World Airport and C.E. Page Airport.
“This is truly unprecedented for the FAA to close these towers right now,” Carney said. “Besides the list of towers, FAA hasn't given airports any other direction. ... It's not that the airport would shut down, but we may lose traffic because of it.”
Carney said existing procedures for pilots to deal with landing and taking off at airports without air traffic control towers may not be enough to ensure adequate safety at an airport like Wiley Post, which handles aircraft from corporate jets to single-engine training planes.
“Wiley Post is designated as a reliever airport to Will Rogers,” Carney said. “It takes a lot of smaller aircraft out of the mix from the large commercial aircraft.”
Dan Ohnesorge, airport director for Enid Woodring Regional Airport, said the FAA determined his airport was an essential part of the mission for nearby Vance Air Force Base. Woodring has about 18,000 flight operations per year, including takeoffs, landings and low approaches, he said.