ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Santa Fe, Roswell and Hobbs could lose their airport control towers because of federal budget cuts, raising questions about whether commercial airlines would continue flights that the communities have fought so hard to secure.
Officials with American and United airlines, which service the small airports, have declined to comment on whether such cuts would impact service.
Towers at the three small airports, as well as the general aviation Double Eagle Airport in west Albuquerque, are on a list of nearly 200 being eyed for possible closure if across-the-board federal budgets cuts that took effect Friday stay in place. The FAA is expected to announce the final cut next week.
FAA and airport managers say any final decision on whether to maintain service to tower-less airports lies with the carriers. A spokesman for American Airlines, which services Santa Fe and Roswell, said it's "too soon to discuss" that question. United, which flies to Hobbs, declined to comment, referring questions to an industry group in Washington, which called the issue "premature" as no tower furloughs would occur before April 7.
But Albuquerque air traffic controller and local controller's union representative Andreas Sanchez said he doubts airlines could maintain schedules such as those to Santa Fe, which has daily American Eagle flights between Dallas and Los Angeles as well as Great Lakes airline service to Clovis and Denver.
While commercial flights do routinely land at the Santa Fe and Roswell airports during off hours when the tower is closed, Sanchez said the risks increase when pilots have "to take their mind off instruments and the cockpit" to communicate with and look for other aircraft.