DETROIT (AP) — Some Michigan airports that could be forced to shutter their air traffic control towers or sacrifice midnight shifts are pressing their cases with federal transportation officials to preserve those services.
Six air traffic control towers in the state are among 238 that could close nationwide, and two other airports could eliminate overnight shifts in early April as the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to shut off funding for those services. The shutdowns are the result of the FAA's move to reduce spending by $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts. The FAA cuts affect mostly small- and medium-size airports, though officials predict flights to major cities could have delays.
Officials at some of the airports targeted for tower closings said they expect the airports to remain open but raised concerns about safety and efficiency. The FAA said it will consider keeping some towers open on a case-by-case basis if local authorities can prove its tower closure would "adversely affect the national interest."
Michigan airports on the air traffic control closure list are Ann Arbor, W.K. Kellogg in Battle Creek, Coleman A. Young in Detroit, Jackson County-Reynolds Field in Jackson, Muskegon County in Muskegon and Sawyer International in Marquette County's Sands Township. The towers at the Lansing and Willow Run airports are on the list of 72 nationwide that could close overnight through the elimination of midnight shifts for air traffic controllers.
Furloughs of air traffic controllers won't kick in until April because the FAA is required by law to give its employees advance notice. Officials have warned that the busiest airports could be forced to close some of their runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.
"Muskegon County Airport will remain open if the (changes go) into effect," said Bob Lukens, community development director for the western Michigan county along Lake Michigan that operates the facility. "We have twice daily flights to Chicago O'Hare on United Express, and those will still be happening, provided they can get out of O'Hare."
Lukens said pilots will have to communicate with each other instead of relying on the airport tower to direct traffic. While it's preferable to have controllers in the tower, he said "the pilots are used to this — they talk to each other."
Still, he said the county remains concerned. He wonders, for example, what effect the potential closure will have on the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates an air station out of the airport in the summer.