SACRAMENTO, CA - The Sacramento Executive Airport air traffic control tower is on the Federal Aviation Administration's final list for closure.
The tower is one of 149 federal contract towers that cease operations in a four-week staggered process beginning April 7.
Sacramento County Airport System COO Lisa Stanton sent this statement in regard to the Executive Airport tower:
We are disappointed in the decision but we have been working with our partners to minimize impact on operations. Sacramento Executive Airport is not closing. There are standard protocols in place to ensure that planes can take off and land safely without a tower, including the use of a pilot-controlled lighting system. The majority of general aviation airports in the US do not have staffed towers, and there are regional airports at McClellan, Rancho Murrieta and Lincoln airports that have operated successfully for many years without an air traffic control tower. It is too soon to tell whether there will be long-term consequences pending Congressional action on a federal budget.
The news comes as a disappointment to a lot of pilots at Sacramento Executive Airport. Without air traffic controllers to staff the tower, it will be up to the pilots to coordinate landings and takeoffs.
Local air officials said that can be done safely as it's done at the majority of general aviation airports in the country that do not have staffed towers, but some pilots like Brian Gunton can't help but worry about the change.
"It's kind of hard. You have airplanes you have to watch out for. It puts a lot of workload on the landing," Gunton said.
After giving operators a chance to make their case why keeping them open would be in the national interest, many pilots hoped Sacramento's control tower would be spared.
"The question of national interest, I don't think was ever fully defined for the people that were trying to make pleas to keep theirs open on that basis," pilot and aeronautics instructor Scott Miller said. "Was it a security interest? Was it an economic interest? You know, that was never made clear. I think from an economic standpoint, the Sacramento area is going to suffer by this."
"I would say that the type of traffic and the importance of aircraft arriving in and out of Sacramento to the business of Sacramento, they should factor that in," pilot Dan Kimmel added.
On the FAA's list of national interest considerations, significant, adverse economic impact had to go beyond the impact on a local community. Many pilots say they're confident Sacramento Executive Airport will remain safe, if only because pilots who aren't comfortable with the change may simply go somewhere else.
"They might try to avoid it, yeah, just to avoid the possibility of collision," Gunton said.
The FAA attributes the tower closures to $637 million trimmed from its budget in the March 1 automatic federal (sequestration) cuts.
Out of the original list of 189 contract towers to be shuttered, the FAA will fund the continued operation of 24 of them because of security and/or economic importance.
As for the other 16 towers on the first list, the communities they are in will share costs for their operation with the federal government as they are in a program for which Congress earmarks funds each year.
The towers at Stockton Metropolitan Airport and Mather Field are FAA (non-contract) towers, and not part of the sequestration cuts.