FAA to close 5 Kansas air traffic towers under cuts - KCTV5

FAA to close 5 Kansas air traffic towers under cuts

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OLATHE, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Five small Kansas airports are among those that will have their towers shut down by the Federal Aviation Administration because of federal budget cuts.

Airport towers slated to stop operations in Kansas include Hutchinson Municipal Airport, New Century in Olathe, Manhattan Regional Airport, Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe and Philip Billard Municipal Airport in Topeka.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.

The plan has raised concerns over the impact on safety and the potential financial effect on communities that rely on airports as economic engines for attracting business.

The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic. The changes are part of across-the-board federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1.

Tony Robbins is the chief flight instructor at ATD Flight Systems which operates out of the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. He has spent more than 5,000 hours at the controls of airplanes.

Even though his control tower wasn't impacted by the cuts, he says closing one tower affects pilots all across the region.

"It is another level of safety our government has decided to peel away," Robbins said.

Robbins says the New Century Air Center and the Johnson County Executive Airport see about 150 take-offs and landings every day, and losing a tower could jeopardize not just those in the air but those on the ground near them as well.

Air traffic controllers are vital to air safety in that they help with much more than just landings and take-offs, Robbins says.

"Air traffic controllers are trained as weather observers and perform other duties besides traffic separation. They are more important at more congested airports," Robbins said.

He understands something needs to be done to reign in the country's massive debt.

"I can't speak to all the budget items, but it is certainly hurtful to us," Robbins said.

But Robbins is hopeful that Missouri congressman Sam Graves, a pilot himself and someone he describes as a big supporter of small craft pilots, will be able to do something to reverse the cuts before they take effect April 7.

Click here for a complete listing of all the local airports affected.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  and The Associated Press.  All rights reserved.

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