NORMAN — Although it isn't a permanent solution, aviation officials say the University of Oklahoma's decision to keep the control tower at Max Westheimer Airport operating will help the student pilots the university trains.
Earlier this week, OU officials announced the university will pay to keep the control tower staffed until the federal budget issues that threatened to close the tower are resolved.
Ken Carson, director of OU's aviation department, said the tower is a critical component of the training the program provides. The announcement that the tower won't close later this month is welcome news, he said.
“It's a benefit to the students,” Carson said. “I'm very pleased with the news.”
The university plans to provide bridge funding — about $38,000 a month — to pay for the tower's current staff, said OU spokeswoman Catherine Bishop. That money comes from auxiliary funds, including fees paid to University Printing Services and the university's motor pool.
That funding will keep the tower open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Currently, the tower operates from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
Although the funding will keep the tower in operation for the time being, Bishop said, it isn't meant as a permanent solution.
“The university will continue to monitor the budget situation in Washington,” she said. “If budget matters remain unresolved for an extended period of time, the university will be prepared to again examine and evaluate the funding question.”
Last month, Federal Aviation Administration officials announced a plan to close 149 air traffic control towers across the country, including six in Oklahoma, as part of automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
Besides OU's tower, the tower at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City is also expected to close, as are the towers at airports in Lawton and Stillwater. The tower at Ardmore Municipal Airport will remain open on a cost-sharing basis. The tower at Enid Woodring Municipal Airport in Enid, which was originally scheduled for closure, will remain open.