Control towers at Jacksonville area airports face closure
March 5, 2013
David Bauerlein

Two Jacksonville airports — Cecil Airport on the Westside and Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport in Arlington — and Northeast Florida Regional in St. Augustine could face closure of their air control towers next month.

The Federal Aviation Authority has listed 173 small and mid-sized airports nationwide that could lose their control tower service for guiding pilots during takeoff and landing.

The FAA also has put out a list of 72 larger airports where the agency would not staff control towers on the overnight shifts. The tower at Jacksonville International Airport is on that list.

The potential closures stem from about $600 million in cuts the FAA must make for the rest of the fiscal year running through September. Those cuts are part of the $85 million in the budget reduction known as sequestration, which went into effect last Friday.

“It’s something that’s being wrestled with across the country,” Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokesman Michael Stewart said Tuesday.

He said if the control towers are closed, airplane operators would decide whether to keep using the airports based on their own operating procedures and insurance requirements. He noted that Herlong Airport, for instance, does not have a control tower but planes fly in and out of it.

“It doesn’t mean the airports will close,” he said. “There may be less traffic. There is no way we can quantify the impact at this point in time. ”

Jacksonville-based Flightstar, which is expanding at Cecil Airport because of growth in its airplane maintenance business, is waiting to see whether airline companies would still fly their plane to Cecil for repairs if the control tower shuts down.

“I think the impact would be minimal at first,” said Tim Bergin, vice president of business development. He said Flightstar’s business usually gets one arrival and one departure each day as planes rotate through for two weeks of maintenance. Those landings and takeoffs typically occur during daylight hours.

“It’s really going to come down to the carriers themselves — what they’re going to be willing to put up with,” he said. “Right now, we’re kind of riding this out and seeing what happens.”

The towers at the 173 airports listed are staffed by contract workers rather than FAA employees.

The FAA will give airports a chance to make the case that it’s in the national interest to remain open, Contract Tower Association head Spencer Dickerson told CNN. The FAA told tower operators the closures would start April 7.

“It seems the contract tower program is taking a high, disproportionate cut,” Dickerson said. “We have serious concerns about the safety, efficiency and loss of jobs” in those communities.

David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581