Some NW Cities Explore How To Keep Airport Control Towers Open

By Tom Banse

Some Northwest cities and counties are exploring whether to use local or private money to keep their airport control towers open. By mid-June, the federal government plans to close the control towers at 13 small to medium sized airports across the region.

Across-the-board budget cuts known as the 'sequester' have led the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel a contract for control tower staffing at smaller Western airfields. Some of the affected airports - such as one near Sun Valley, Idaho, and another in Renton, Washington - are threatening to sue to stop the move. Other communities are scrounging for local dollars to keep their control towers open at least part-time. Pierce County, Washington airport and ferry manager Deb Wallace is researching how much it would cost to hire controllers for busy summer weekends at Tacoma Narrows Airport.

Deb Wallace: "We will be exploring the opportunity to actually receive sponsorship. I think there may be a business opportunity for sponsorship by different companies to provide this service."

In Idaho Falls, the manager of the city-operated airport has offered to shift money from the maintenance budget - at least for the short term - to keep the control tower open.

Here's a list of air traffic control towers at small to medium sized Northwest airports which are at risk of closure by the FAA. The control towers are operated by a federal contractor called Serco:

Hailey/Sun Valley
Idaho Falls

Walla Walla - local cost share keeps tower open at least through Sept.
Renton Municipal
Olympia Regional
Tacoma Narrows
Spokane (Felts Field)

North Bend/Coos Bay, OR
Salem Municipal

Regional airport control towers on the original FAA target list that have since been removed:

Klamath Falls - large Air National Guard presence at this airfield
Twin Falls, ID - FAA-operated tower
Grant County/Moses Lake - FAA-operated tower
Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) - FAA-operated tower
(The FAA contract with its controllers union requires 1-year advance notice to close a government operated facility.)

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