The announcement left OU officials scrambling to limit the impact on the university's aviation program. Student pilots are trained to fly in environments both with and without control towers, and Carson said officials had planned to use Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport to train with control towers.
While that option would have met FAA requirements, Carson said, it wouldn't have been ideal.
Students in the program generally complete about 80 percent of their flight time in an environment with a control tower, he said. Although it isn't required, OU officials think it's important because the students in the program typically go on to work for regional airlines and corporations, where experience flying with a control tower is helpful.
If OU's control tower closed, Carson said, the amount of time students spend flying with a control tower would be cut to about 20 percent. It could also make flying at Westheimer Airport more difficult for students during periods of heavy traffic, he said.
Despite that difficulty, Carson said he doesn't think the closure would have caused safety issues for student pilots. If the airport's traffic pattern was crowded and a student pilot became overwhelmed, he said, instructors could have that student divert to another airport or wait to land until things calmed down.
“I know what our student pilots are capable of, and our instructors,” Carson said.
Although the tower isn't shutting down entirely, Carson said the program will still need to implement new policies for Sundays and other days after 8 p.m., when the tower won't be operating.
During those times, he said, instructors and others in the program will need to stay aware of how many students are scheduled to fly at a time.
“We're kind of in uncharted territory,” he said.