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FAA plans to close air traffic control towers at six of Oklahoma's airports

Airports in Ardmore, Enid, Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City (Wiley Post Airport) and Stillwater could lose their control towers if the sequestration proposal moves forward. A finalized list will be made public next week.
by Jennifer Palmer Published: March 12, 2013

/articleid/3764842/1/pictures/1979248">Photo - FILE PHOTO: Air traffic controllers inside Norman's Max Westheimer Airport, one of six towers in Oklahoma set to close due to FAA budget cuts. <strong>ROGER KLOCK</strong>
FILE PHOTO: Air traffic controllers inside Norman's Max Westheimer Airport, one of six towers in Oklahoma set to close due to FAA budget cuts. ROGER KLOCK

The airport has 56,000 to 57,000 operations a year and saw its traffic increase by 9.5 percent last year.

When the University of Notre Dame football team was in town to play the Sooners last fall, there were at least 200 aircraft at the airport, which ended up turning some pilots away and running out of fuel, Strong said.

“How do you do that without a control tower in place?” he questioned.

“Not safely, fast or efficiently.”

Air service at Will Rogers World Airport could be impacted, as well, said Karen Carney, an airport spokeswoman.

Cutting the air traffic control tower's overnight shifts would affect the airport's first departure, scheduled at 5:30 a.m., and late flights, which arrive from 12:30 to 1 a.m.

Also, nightly airfield inspections and snow operations aren't allowed in an uncontrolled environment, she said.

If the control tower at Wiley Post Airport is closed, pilots may instead attempt to use Will Rogers World Airport, which could increase traffic and cause delays.

Commercial flights likely will continue at Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport, where American Eagle is the sole air carrier.

But military operations and charter flights could be impacted, airport Director Barbara McNally said.

Currently, the airport's control tower operates from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

McNally is appealing the FAA's decision.

“If the whole point of the FAA is safety ... you're taking a key piece of the safety of the national airspace system out,” she said of the proposal.

Of the 238 air traffic control towers set for closure nationwide, 189 are part of the FAA's contract tower program, meaning they are staffed by nonfederal employees.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, last week asked the FAA to reconsider. He suggested alternative cuts that could save money yet protect the safety of the flying public, such as canceling upcoming conferences, freezing nonessential hiring and reducing funding for several low-priority programs.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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