Towers: Talk to Your Neighbor

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Over the weekend, I was searching for my better nature and tried to restrain myself from commenting one more time on the FAA's tower closure plan (PDF), which was announced Friday. But having read the list and watched the unfolding coverage of this fiasco, I find that… I just can't stand it.

Not the list itself, which I think is a reasonably rational first cut at chiseling some unnecessary expenditures out of the FAA budget, sequestration or not. More on that in a moment. First, kudos to AVweb readers who took our survey and found time to comment. You can read the story summary here along with some of the comments. In general, on both sides of the issue, I found reader comments to reflect a realistic understanding of the risk involved in operating with or without a tower. But I'll admit to being pulled up short on one of the questions. I thought most pilots would accept that a control tower is at least an incremental addition to the safety net and that it's convenient to have one, if not necessary. I got straightened out on that: Many don't think that at all, as you'll see in the comments.

What really made me want to slit my wrists was the daily press coverage of this story, culminating in one of the sillier comments I've heard from an aviation professional. One Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Airport in bustling Springfield, Illinois, told the local media that without controllers, the risk "goes up exponentially." This bit of nonsense got picked up by the wires and appeared in literally dozens of stories read by the freckle-necked masses. Just to refresh, exponential growth is doubling over a specified time. So if a single day is our unit, by the end of 10 days, the risk is a thousand times greater and by the end of month, you won't even leave the house. You'll be dead in bed. Perhaps with the rest of the planet.

So I implore you, if your neighbor or a co-worker asks about this tower closing thing, give them a calm, thoroughgoing explanation of how all this works. Even if you oppose all the tower closings, including the ones in the sleepiest little muni fields, is there any among us who would believe that without control towers to "guide us to a landing," it will suddenly be raining Bonanzas and Skyhawks? Tell them the truth, please, pointing out that those very same airplanes languish in hangars far more than they used to, such that many tower operators could snooze all day and not be missed.

That's not to say some of the towers on that list shouldn't be closed. What, maybe a dozen of them have enough mixed traffic and training to justify a tower? Maybe a second cut will take a closer look at that, if it's necessary. And there were a couple of shockers on the list, including Oshkosh, which most of us know as the busiest airport in the world for a crowded week in July. On the other hand, have you ever been into OSH in January? Graveyards are livelier.

Meanwhile, you know what to do. It's pretty simple, really. Just look out the window when you fly and try to play nice.

And by the way, if you're a Center or TRACON controller, we're not ignoring you. We just haven't got that far yet. Drop me a line here if you'd like to comment privately and for background on cutback effects at those facilities.

Comments (73)

I hate to kick a dead horse, but the world is “digitizing”, and ATC is just caught in the middle. This is the unstoppable paradigm shift. Even when ATC returns, it won't look the same when it does, and it'll be different. I've worked any years in manufacturing, and we used to call it "C & C" (close and/or consolidate). In the end of all the restructuring, the plant pumped out more product using fewer people. I have every reason to believe the same will happen to ATC. And you radar guys are next. With airframe projections forecast to be anemic, the whole d*mn industry just might collapse under its own weight in just a few years.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 24, 2013 9:31 PM    Report this comment

When non-pilot friends ask me about operating airports without towers, I tell them that it is like an intersection with a 4-way stop sign instead of a traffic signal. All the drivers look for other traffic and take turns. People understand that analogy.

Posted by: Art Zemon | March 24, 2013 10:38 PM    Report this comment

I explain to people, that we have elected people who have no fiscal responsibility. Every entity, private or public that spends more than it takes in will eventually have to align spending with income or fail. Period. The tower closures are just a small realization of this fact. Heed the warning. Some get it. Some don't. You can probably guess who gets it and who doesn't.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | March 25, 2013 7:00 AM    Report this comment

One of the very few bright spots in New Jersey aviation has been the establishment of an operations hub at Trenton Mercer Airport by Frontier Airlines. TTN is now able to serve its reliever role to PHL and provide convenient multi-city service to millions of people who live within a 1/2 hour drive of TTN. But that airport also hosts a lot of corporate, military helicopter and flight training activity. I am sure it will all work out, but I have to wonder if the aircraft mix and growth of commercial service at this facility doesn't justify tower operations.

Posted by: Bill Leavens | March 25, 2013 7:23 AM    Report this comment

I tell people its just like Y2K. What happened? Nothing.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 25, 2013 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Not sure why OSH is a "shocker." Certainly no tower is necessary there except during Air Venture and surely it will be in operation as usual at that time, staffed by volunteers.

Posted by: Carl Willis | March 25, 2013 7:37 AM    Report this comment

I have to say I'm in agreement with Bertorelli here. The news media sound like Chicken LIttle. My local airports are all on the list for closure, and I think of it this way. If National, Eastern and Delta could mix it up with GA traffic in the 1970s and manage just fine without a tower flying with their 1970s technology, I'm thinking the GA traffic of today coming into my local airport can manage just fine, with vigilance, and equipped as so many of them are with electronic TIS and ADS-B, GPS navigation and all, in the non-tower environment of the airport traffic area. Come on, I remember sorting out B-727 versus C-172 in the traffic pattern in a no-radar environment. That was much more challenging than what we have today.

GA pilots simply need to rise to the occasion and fly as they were taught--looking out of the window and scanning in nice, even, 10 degree increments (and constantly) and remembering the right-of-way rules of the sky. Simple stuff, really.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | March 25, 2013 7:54 AM    Report this comment


PLEASE come up with a better analogy than a 4-way stop sign. We call 'em "deli stop signs" - as in "take a number and wait."

Stupidest single idea I've seen in my six decades. Now we have 3-way stop signs, too - at T-bone intersections! WTF??? The old rules worked just fine. The new drivers don't even KNOW the right-of-way rules! They just stop (sort of); log a few milliseconds at the intersection; then blast off under the presumption that you will yield to them.

When explaining non-tower facilities, I always say "Just as not every intersection has a traffic police officer on duty, not every airport has an operating control tower. Aircraft have 'rules of the road,' too, and they manage not to collide with each other - just as cars manage to get through intersections without help from the police."

Some believe; others don't. Flying's not an appropriate activity for people who want government to protect them from cradle to grave, anyway!

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 25, 2013 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Our local tower, Trenton-Mercer (TTN) in NJ, is one of those scheduled to close. While I never really thought that TTN was a terribly busy place, it does have an interesting mix of traffic all the way from LSAs through 737s. The trick to a smooth transition will be educating the jet jockies, who fly wide fast patterns, to use local reporting points that the Cessna and Piper drivers are familiar with. It will be interesting the first time a Frontier jet has to go-around because a student pilot is sitting at the end of the runway confused about a checklist item. It'll all be fine eventually, but the transition will be interesting to watch.

Posted by: Michael Friedman | March 25, 2013 8:29 AM    Report this comment

I hear "the sky is (will be) falling" comments even from fellow pilots, but mostly the somewhat younger crowd who don't remember operating at relatively busy airports pre-control tower.

Southern California's Whiteman (whose tower is on the list) is an excellent example. In close proximity to Burbank and Van Nuys, in the non-tower years it even had a second non-tower airport, San Fernando, only a little over 2 miles off the north end with a runway & pattern aligned 90 degrees off Whiteman’s, thereby forming a barrier in the sky. The arrangement required Whiteman traffic to hold to a tightly controlled downwind and close-in base to prevent conflict. No extending the downwind to compensate for overrunning the guy you were following. On the always busy weekends it could be a zoo, but also a great training ground for mutually cooperative planning & handling.

Posted by: John Wilson | March 25, 2013 8:35 AM    Report this comment

Any mid-airs in that arrangement, John?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I have not heard anyone ask, let alone give a s--t, but if they did (my towere is on kill list)I would tell them I got my coml/multi at an airport with no tower and have landed hundreds of times at towerless airports, as we have standard ops., rules of the air to manage without incident.

Posted by: Charles Heathco | March 25, 2013 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Our local tower was chopped. The airport we operate our Lear and KA200 from is just 25 miles away. The diner on the field makes it much busier than the towered airport during the lunch hour. The towered airport has high military training traffic. I wonder if that will drop off once the tower closes. Other than special occasions, without military traffic, it really is a very slow airport.
While we will be able to operate without the tower, just two days ago while coming in to the "diner" airport, I was cut off by a 152 and had to send the Lear around the pattern. It's very frustrating. At least I wasn't paying for the fuel. I could just look on the bright side and say it was good practice.

BUT, back on topic, the local news station reported before the announcement that the near by (60 miles away) class B airport's tower will be responsible for our airport which will cause delays at that airport and ours. That's just the most comical statement they made. The whole thing was grossly inaccurate.

As a final comment, I feel like the contract towers were probably the most efficient part of the FAA. While some were likely smart cuts, why didn't anything outside of contract towers get cut? They appear to be protecting their own. Politics, I guess. I probably would have done the same thing.

Posted by: WILLIAM BEEVER JR | March 25, 2013 8:50 AM    Report this comment

I'm guessing Mr. Hanna is not an aviator. The small regional field I used to work at in CT (BDR) is managed by such an individual. But, to his credit, he doesn't make half-baked comments to the media. I agree that a tower does add a measure of safety to operations at an airport. My airport is just outside of NY's airspace, and right on the coast 11nm from a second small regional field. I worked in operations, and spend many hours with the ATC staff in the tower. During summer, hazy days make traffic spotting over the water tricky (non-radar tower) and without a controller to help direct traffic flow, I can see some sticky situations developing. If pilots went by the recommendations from the AIM, there'd probably be few issues, but humans are not perfect and some have a stronger tendency to push the envelope even though aviation is pretty unforgiving of such actions.
Biggest issue I can see will be ground delays in IMC when the newly un-controlled fields become "one in, one out" situations.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | March 25, 2013 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Art: I think your analogy of a four way stop is a great one despite the very negative comment "Stupidest single idea I've seen in my six decades". Yes, not everyone knows or adheres to the rules and may not stop or go when they are supposed to, but guess what, so do some pilots. You had best be diligent and expect the unexpected and watch for the guy who announces he is on a 5 mile final or who enters the pattern on a three mile downwind, or pulls onto the active when you're on short final, etc. etc.

Posted by: Ernie D. | March 25, 2013 9:07 AM    Report this comment


re Whiteman, no, but I had a near-miss just last week only 600 feet off the deck on base-turning-to-final with a twin coming form the opposite base doing the exact same. At that altitude there's zero room to maneuver. Fortunately there was enough time for me to make a call to the tower and have them resolve it. Granted, in non-tower ops we shouldn't have situations where I'm on right downwind and the twin was on left downwind, but my biggest fear at WHP will be the clowns who come through Newhall and land straight-in without entering the pattern because they're used to the tower letting them do that for years. The trouble is I'm going to be the guy turning base-to-final when one of those guys creams me.

Posted by: David Rosing | March 25, 2013 9:10 AM    Report this comment

Recently I took a friend for a ride--very interested in learning to fly, now that his kids are grown and gone. As we taxied out at GXY, I self-announced that I was crossing 9-27. He asked, "Don't you have to talk to a tower?" "There is no tower. We just look out for others, tell them what we're doing, and they do the same." "Wow!"

The terminology we use sometimes fools pilots, too. "Air Traffic Control", "controllers", etc., leads the public and some of us into thinking that someone else is in charge. Well, someone else is, but it's not "controllers". :) Meanwhile, as PICs, it's our right and duty to fly our airplanes according to the regs while following the "almost regulatory" suggestions of the AIM. If everyone would do that, this whole Chicken Little argument about tower closings would go away.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | March 25, 2013 9:54 AM    Report this comment

Leaving aside your terrifyingly incomplete description of what “exponential” means, I’ll focus on your lack of comprehension of physics.

I suspect that he meant exponentially as the amount of traffic increases, which is probably correct. At least that’s how physics works: as you add gas to a volume the heat (number of collisions) increases exponentially as the number of molecules of as in that volume increases. That’s a pretty apt analogy, and probably even holds true for the number of aircraft in a given airspace relative to the number of midairs. Having an active control tower probably decreases the rate of accidents for a constant number of aircraft in an airspace linearly and dramatically.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | March 25, 2013 10:29 AM    Report this comment

With all the hoopla about saving money, why hasn't anyone suggested closing some federal towers, or better yet, converting some of the "must keep open" places to contract towers?

I know that there was some controversy about the "safety" of contract vs. FAA-operated towers a couple of years ago, but I don't think that it was ever really resolved. The one factoid I remember from that discussion was that contract towers are substantially cheaper. From my limited personal experience, the only difference between "contract" towers and "FAA" towers in the air, is that the former seem to be a little more cordial.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | March 25, 2013 10:40 AM    Report this comment

"Having an active control tower probably decreases the rate of accidents for a constant number of aircraft in an airspace linearly and dramatically."

Unless you can produce some convincing data--indeed, any data--you should confine your argument to physics. In case you haven't noticed, traffic is decreasing at GA airports, rather dramatically. So I find it far fetched that risk increases exponentially no matter how you slice the bologna.

If the risk were truly exponential, we would have seen accidents as the result of previous tower closings. We have not. So where's the drama?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 10:54 AM    Report this comment

“If the risk were truly exponential, we would have seen accidents as the result of previous tower closings. We have not. So where’s the drama?”

Because exponential equations can have leading constants that are very small. 0.00001 * x^8 is exponential, but is a pretty flat curve until x gets fairly big. As the exponent gets larger, the smaller the change in x needs to be to get a really different result. But that’s tilting at windmills: the guy’s argument had nothing to do with time, he was talking about traffic.

Put another way, if non-towered airports are so safe, why leave the towers at class B airports open? Or really busy class D airports like DVT?

Posted by: Brad Koehn | March 25, 2013 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I am not 100% sure but I heard that closing a contract tower requires only a 30 day notice but to close an FAA tower requires 12 months notice.

Posted by: Donald Purney | March 25, 2013 11:22 AM    Report this comment


There's are other issues that are not being discussed much. In addition to the 149 towers closing, there is the furloughing of all remaining controllers one day in ten. No matter how you cut it, that reduces the capacity of the national airspace system. What may happen is that there will delays at the remaining towered airports, lack of flight following services for VFR planes, and potential delays or worse regarding pop-up IFR clearances for GA planes.
It's unlikely that this will happen everywhere, but I'm sure it will happen in more congested airspace - just where those services are needed.

In addition, we are likely to see delays at the newly "non towered" airports that have mixed airline and GA traffic. During IFR conditions, the airlines will have to land before they can cancel their approach clearances. With towers, once they have an aircraft in sight, they can notify approach control, so the next approach can begin. In a non-tower situation, the next aircraft won't be able to start their approach till the preceding airliner has landed. There's likely to be lots more holding out there.

It will all be safe, but it will be less efficient.

Posted by: LARRY BAUM | March 25, 2013 11:47 AM    Report this comment

"Put another way, if non-towered airports are so safe, why leave the towers at class B airports open? Or really busy class D airports like DVT?"

I'm going to assume that although you're well schooled in math, you understand that the evolution of Class B and other airspace didn't have the benefit of mathematically derived risk models. They are largely political animals based on specific accidents, as is the very existence of the FAA itself.

I'll reverse the question, if non-towered airports are so unsafe, why don't we have more accidents and why don't we insist on a control tower at every airport? The answer should be self evident.

We make decisions and spend safety dollars based on perceived risk and the FAA's tombstone mentality of benefit-cost based on the value of a life. (See explanation above.) But real probability calculations pale by comparison to the emotion that guides these decisions.

Examples? Two come to mind. The recently enacted requirement for F/Os to have 1500 hours and the patently stupid Child Pilot Safety Act, otherwise known as the Jessica Dubroff law. I could go on. The point is, emotionalism, politics and self-interest--not necessarily enlightened--drive these decisions more than actual risk assessments, although risk will be used as the all-purpose cudgel to suck money out of the government coffers for jobs and big shiny buildings.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 11:56 AM    Report this comment

One of our local towers, Fayetteville AR (KFYV) is on the list. Not sure how much impact it will have on day-to-day operatons, but I'll be crossing my fingers a little bit when we have our first major UA home game this fall. The term "zoo" comes to mind.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | March 25, 2013 11:58 AM    Report this comment

And that gets us back to our friend who says removing a tower at a sleepy Class D airport raises the risk exponentially, this despite the fact that traffic isn't increasing, it's decreasing or nearly flat almost everywhere. See above: all-purpose safety cudgel.

I would have bought "increase the risk incrementally or marginally." But if I use the Webster's definition of exponential risk increase--growth whose rate becomes ever more rapid in proportion to the growing total number or size--it just doesn't pass the smell test.

And that seems to be the prevailing opinion among pilots who fly in the system. Airport managers may experience varying mileage. Again, lots of emotion and politics, not so much risk real-world risk assessment.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 12:04 PM    Report this comment

"once they have an aircraft in sight, they can notify approach control, so the next approach can begin."

And this is where knowledge and cooperation can pay off. Although some air carrier ops specs might not allow it, GA airplanes can cancel IFR inbound if weather permits, unpinning the guy on the ground waiting to get out.

We used to know these things and do these things. I hope we get back to it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 12:08 PM    Report this comment

As someone who made a living playing with exponents before I became a dentist and went brain dead, the term should be treated like "fascist" is in arguments among liberals. The rule us if you use the term, fascist, you automatically lose the argument. And if you use the term "exponentially" talkng about risk, you almost certainly don't know what you're talking about. The term is meaningless except in the concept of an equation, which is never provided. In some models, population grows exponentially. Bacteria grow exponentially within the limits of the culture medium. Money grows exponentially--or at least it did back in the days of non-zero interest ates. And you don't raise something exponentially, anyway; you square it, or raise it to a fractional power; or you make it the exponent; or increase/decrease the exponent(s) in a power series. It's a nonsense phrase used by someone who is so sure they are right, they can't take the time to think . . .

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | March 25, 2013 1:13 PM    Report this comment

I operate a piston single from GNV in Florida. I support most of these closings yet realize that some combination of reasonable cost/benefit *and* political advocacy played a part in determining the final list.

Many of the new FL towers (e.g. OCF, XFL) have shiny new towers and cabs and yet do not have any radar feeds (!) and so really offer negligible benefit in sequencing airborne traffic, etc.(based on personal experience operating at these fields). That we spend that kind of money on new towers without outfitting them with the primary tool GA pilots don't have probably helps explain why we have financial problems. I regret that we are closing those new facilities and losing the sunk investment to date, but I don't think these towers justified themselves in the first place.

I regret the impact on the tower staff -- these folks have been super friendly, have shown us their facilities, and do their best given what they have.

Favorite Bertorelli quotes in this discussion: "Imagine the horror of pilots having to find runways without federal assistance" and "real probability calculations pale by comparison to the emotion that guides these decisions." You go Paul! Let me know when you're in Gainesville and I'll buy you a beer.

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | March 25, 2013 1:55 PM    Report this comment

To Ernie D:

Just to clarify my comment about the "stupidest single idea I've seen in my six decades," the stupid idea was the EXISTANCE of 4-way stop signs - not Art's use of it as an example of aeronautical rules-of-the-road. I urged Art to find a better example, because 4-way stop signs do such an awful job precisely because they ignore the sensible time-tested rules of the road.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 25, 2013 1:59 PM    Report this comment

4-way stop signs are designed to slow the flow of traffic through an area. They work fairly well at that. But that's usually not the goal with air traffic control. I do think towers help with traffic flow, particularly since not all planes fly at the same speed. But without radar, they're not improving safety much. Tell you what--give us the option of closing no towers, but covering that cost by a new tax on aviation fuels. Would many of you be in favor of that? If not, then you don't value the incremental safety of towers by as much as you say you do.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | March 25, 2013 2:07 PM    Report this comment

Bradley, I'm actually in Gainsville a lot. Stop there on the long, tedious drive to the track at Jennings.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I sent the question to your editor, but maybe you could answer it here. If I'm correct every tower on the closure list is a "contract tower" and I've been speculating why. The comment from Mr. Purney above the reason? It sounds about right. Or is it the FAA protecting themself...somehow?

Posted by: bill ludlow | March 25, 2013 2:37 PM    Report this comment

Aside from my earlier comments on the state of this industry, I think many readers fail to understand exactly what is happening from a larger perspective. Contract ATC is private enterprise, which is why the contractors were the first to go. This is the "inflict maximum pain" Alinsky-ite theory that I'll leave to the discretion of the readers to discover for themselves. This is akin to whenever a budget ensues at the local level, the "police, firefighters, and teachers" are on the front lines -- even though they may have been the most efficiently operating agencies.

I can think of at least one low-level Federal tower that stayed open, and politics had everything to do with it: KILG.

And I'll give you one guess as to why.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 25, 2013 2:47 PM    Report this comment

Phil: And that's precisely why I'm annoyed at the closure of these towers. Not so much because it's a possible safety or convenience issue, but because they are non-government "low hanging fruit" and easy to dispose of. And more generally, that's why I think the whole sequestration thing is a bad idea: we're cutting costs where it's easiest to do so, and not necessarily where it's best to do so.

Close the towers that don't necessarily need the services, but don't close them simply by which is easiest to cut. KILG is a great example: is it even possible to fly in and out of there if you aren't government/law enforcement, with the frequent TFRs that sit over it? I doubt they get the air traffic to justify the tower.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 25, 2013 3:56 PM    Report this comment

I think "round-about" street intersections are faster than four way stops. Drivers just need to yield to the traffic on the roundabout. Sort of like an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern.
They dug up the roads here and installed round-abouts a few years ago. It took a few weeks for the drivers to figure it out. Works well now.

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 25, 2013 11:10 PM    Report this comment

Everything is pointing to controller reduction as the inevitable thing to do. First, the 1981 new hires from the Reagan-era "restructuring" are aging out (turning 56), making a shortage. Second, it is no secret that FAA is trying to staff up with unacceptable failure rates. Third, planes are rapidly getting smarter (traffic aware, weather aware, more info, iPads, Flight Directors, 2 way data links, you name it). Fourth, less GA traffic (but probably an increase in airline traffic).

When the ATC system was built, we had lights to guide us and if you were really lucky, you had an ADF. We don't use those anymore, either.

FAA just got to the contractors first because they could. Union ATC needs a year's notice and they probably got it quietly a week or two ago.

What's next? What do we need RADAR for? Maybe national defense, possibly UAVs. Not for everyone, though.

Sometimes, it's amazing how lack of money cause us to do the right things (just as more money often pressures us to be wasteful and do the wrong things).

I feel sorry for the contractors that, as usual, are the victims of management that is so inept as to not have vision and compassion to have an orderly wind down of jobs.

I don't think it will be unsafe without the towers, but it will be different. Now, when all this happens, y'all keep those eyes out the window instead of on your automation! Go back to being a pilot instead of a computer operator -- it's more fun and safer.

Posted by: JAMES T FORTUNE | March 26, 2013 5:52 AM    Report this comment


"What do we need RADAR for?" Two part answer:
1. We need RADAR-based technology, because of the "D" in ADS-B. RADAR detection of (non-radar-evading) airborne targets is not dependent upon a fatally-flawed paradigm that relies upon three serial single-point-failure-mode elements (satellites, GPS receivers/navigators, and position-reporting transmitters).
2. We need to un-couple RADAR-based sensing from human-based control loops.

Ironically, we’re building our “next generation” air traffic control system utilizing the same human-centric approach. It’s very much like making a trillion-dollar effort to improve the candle, while Mr. Edison knows that all that we really seek is a reliable source of light.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 26, 2013 9:38 AM    Report this comment

Several towers around my area will close, including Riverside CA, which I use a lot. It does not really worry me. What riles me is that there is that there are things like: "Subcommittee Oversight Efforts Identify $1.1 Trillion in Waste or Questionable Spending ". Trillion! With a T. And they have to go and cut something that our taxes used to fund quite adequately and had a practical use for all of us. The government spends $25 Billion on maintaining unused property, for example. And one of the first things they need to cut back on control towers??

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | March 26, 2013 11:33 AM    Report this comment

There is a protocol for 4-way stops; it isn't just to 'slow the traffic in the area', it's there to ensure that all may proceed through the intersection without a conflict, and if all act in accordance with the protocol, all *will* make it past that point without metal bending, paint chipping, glass breaking or bodies being damaged.

Operations at non-towered airports are similarly governed by a shared protocol, only we can (usually) talk to each other and we've all been certified by a process that puts Drivers Ed to shame. I remember flying with a passenger into the little airport at the historic gold rush town of Columbia, California, not very busy, I think there was one aircraft arriving ahead of me, and one departing aircraft. My passenger was shocked when I told her there wasn't a tower... she'd heard the exchanges and it sounded to her like it was being professionally managed, and in a way it was. No nonsense position and intention reports with all conflicts resolved ahead of time without strife and in accordance with the universally understood (cross fingers) protocol.

It isn't hard.

Posted by: Greg Goodknight | March 26, 2013 11:51 AM    Report this comment

"The government spends $25 Billion on maintaining unused property, for example. And one of the first things they need to cut back on control towers?"

Economist Thomas Sowell, in his recent "Budget Politics" column, wrote:
"Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency's budget were cut, what would it do?

The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place."

If they cut back on the maintenance of unused property, someone might ask why it's being kept if they didn't have a use for it?

Posted by: Greg Goodknight | March 26, 2013 12:28 PM    Report this comment

Two Class D towers that border Luke AFB will be closing, Goodyear and Glendale. At GYR, the flight school that trains pilots for Lufthansa German Airlines and the German air force is closing and moving not just away from the airport, but overseas with the tower closure. Another school on site is CAE Oxford, and they will be leaving also.

180 GA jobs from their combined total gone. An estimated 200 or more on the connected trickle-down from their presence. 24 years at the airport. Tax revenue lost.

I know many here have unwavering confidence that allows them to shout 'close 'em!' and 'they'll find other work!'. But is GA strong enough to keep sustaining these uppercuts to the jaw in the late rounds of its prizefight? That's where I'm at with this, jobs and GA sustainability. And could this have an effect on pilot starts and retention.

About four-way stop intersections, I avoid them as if they are killing zones. I've always hated them. But I love the roundabouts. They bring a little fun back to the drudgery of driving. But I'm on board to try and explain if asked how pilots and planes can fly without towers, if anyone cares to ask.

Posted by: David Miller | March 26, 2013 2:04 PM    Report this comment

Dave, Did you hear about the half million dollar hotel stays by the VP and the $36K portraits of all the politicians? Tell the displaced workers to become painters or hotel management. Our government is redistributing wealth there!

Posted by: William Grant | March 26, 2013 3:19 PM    Report this comment

Aviation, my friends is -- and always will be -- an industry serving expanding and vibrant economies. If the underlying industrial base continues to shrink as it has, and the government continues to get bloated as it appears to ... just who in the heck will "free enterprise" sell to? Oh! I forgot ... China ...

And just where will those unemployed tower controllers go to find comparable employment ... the very government that put them on the unemployment rolls in the first place? Never let a good crisis go to waste, or so goes the sayings of Rahm Emmanuel and others ... tower closures is but one more opportunity for our socialist leadership to constrict -- and ultimately eliminate -- private enterprise.

Have a great day ...

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 26, 2013 6:48 PM    Report this comment

I agree with David that nothing that follows the word "facist" is worthy of notice. That is equally true of "communism" and "nazism", although I am confused as to how our present administration can be thought to inhabit both at simultaneously.

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | March 26, 2013 7:00 PM    Report this comment

I think Bill Berson has a better idea comparing uncontrolled airports to traffic circles. There were a couple of 4 way stops near the house I lived in for over 30 years. My observations of them, combined with the results of the city police telling the public to treat intersections with non-working signals during power failures like 4 ways are that there isn't much comparison. Pilots, at least, get some training on procedures at these airports. Drivers and 4 way stops? Not so much. I found that most people are clueless regarding the simple procedures there (first come, first served-ties go to the vehicle on the right). If your friends think uncontrolled airports operate like 4 way stops with airplanes, they probably wouldn't want to go near one.

Posted by: John Worsley | March 26, 2013 8:21 PM    Report this comment

I believe we should close ALL contract towers. How else are we going to pay for all the foreign aid we must provide? Why just a couple of weeks ago we had to give Egypt another $250 million.
While it's obvious I'm being sarcastic, what isn't so obvious is that this is another nail in the coffin of GA.

Posted by: jere gardner | March 27, 2013 12:36 AM    Report this comment

Exponents and four way stops signs aside, I'm not sure we know what the results will be. Some of the tower closures in mountainous ares may be problematical and some of the airports have a serious mix of aircraft performance. Having flown slow airplanes without radios (back in the 'dark' ages and four engine airliners in tower-less airports, I have seen both sides. Today's two crew airliners and biz aircraft have fairly high workloads in terminal areas, especially if any aircraft problems are being dealt with and this won't help. I am not convinced we know how well this will sort itself out, especially in the LA smog bowl, at airports with a student/airliner mix, at airports in mountainous area, at airports with higher levels of IFR traffic especially as we continue into ADS-B operations, and with many IFR pilots who aren't all that familiar with traffic patterns today. Some airplanes can't (easily) comply with the 200 kt. traffic pattern speed restriction either. I hope everyone is very careful!

Posted by: John Snidow | March 27, 2013 9:19 AM    Report this comment

Not addressed as yet. As an active CFI, where am I going to take my students so they can receive the required tower experience? My choice is a Class C 150 NM away, a Class B 130 NM away or a mountainous Class D 100 NM away. Now magnify this kind of scenario by ALL Prospective Student Pilots and have them converge on the remaining towered airports (not even thinking of weekend traffic)and see what happens at a busy tower full of student pilots. Either we scale back the closures or change the regulations requiring towered operations. Anybody listening?

Posted by: MICHAEL MARQUETTE | March 27, 2013 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Sport Pilots don't require tower training. I think plenty of private pilots avoid busy airports and towered airports. I do. The real solution is more cheap airports so that no airport ever gets busy enough to need a tower, new control towers now cost more than the airport. Only major commercial airports would need a tower.
Instead, we now see airport numbers in decline, not growth. Airports without towers have lower hanger and business lease rates. Newer runways would revitalize the area. Eventually, without new runways, airplanes will be useless as the number of airports is limited. No major city could survive with only one major highway on which permission to enter by radio to a control tower is required. Why is air transportation so restricted?
Bill Berson
Former airport business owner

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 27, 2013 10:32 AM    Report this comment

The current "president" in his arrogance and disregard for everything except his own small minded personal agenda thinks nothing about jeopardizing the safety of general avaiation by shutting down towers, particularly those at smaller airports with busy light and medium business jet traffic. He does not like corporate jet aircraft. Yet he thinks nothing of giving the Egyptians 1.2 billion borrowed dollars and the Palestinians 500 million borrowed dollars...these are the same Palestinians that rejoiced in the streets when the World Trade Center was attacked. There are so many ways to fund the operation of these towers by simply moving money around and defunding things that don't affect commerce and safety. And to think we are just in the third month of his new reign. I am physically sick.

Posted by: william laatsch | March 27, 2013 4:39 PM    Report this comment

Billy, Billy, Billy ... don't get mad ... get even.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 27, 2013 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Days late, but Paul asked about mid-airs @ WHP (Whiteman)back in the days of semi-conflicting traffic patterns with San Fernando: I don't recall any, although there were indeed conflicts, usually accompanied by unprofessional but to-the-point radio exchanges. I was based at San Fernando and knew to give them the widest possible berth.

In the years after the San Fernando airport shut down and before WHP got their current contract tower I recall there was at least one mid-air in or immediately outside the WHP pattern. They do happen, even at towered airports.

Another occasional Whiteman hazard (while we're on it) was big iron on visual final to Burbank's Runway 15 where an early descent puts them directly on the WHP downwind at or only slightly above pattern altitude but going the opposite direction. This was sometimes the result of mistaking WHP's runway for Burbank and descending too early. An attention getter, mos' def' !

Posted by: John Wilson | March 27, 2013 6:48 PM    Report this comment

Been doing some thinking (dangerous, I know)! What if we required a two way transceiver when landing at certain busy, formerly towered airports and had a distinct CTAF frequency (perhaps the old tower frequency)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 27, 2013 7:08 PM    Report this comment

Interesting comment. Currently a non-towered airport can host many aviation activities, ag ops, no-radio, gliders, ultra-light aircraft, all which do not require a transceiver. The problem is how do we differentiate between a formerly towered airport and a normal untowered airport. We would have to have some system to differentiate.

Posted by: MICHAEL MARQUETTE | March 27, 2013 10:44 PM    Report this comment

We already do have such a system to differentiate called Class D airspace. You just operate within it as when the tower is closed.

Posted by: David Leddy | March 28, 2013 6:59 AM    Report this comment

Retired controller, and worked small FSS field. The towers do add to safety, but I have to agree that way to many where political "medals". I watched as advisory service, became a watche me cut you off on final, and as a pilot have landed on a ruway to watch another twin not talking land on the opposite end. What was missing from this whole mis-adventure was a logical, thought out evaluation based of location and traffic mix to determine which should be closed. There is also going to be a great reduction in weather reporting as these tower provide additional weather and replaced the missing infomation from the automated weather systems when they where broken.. There will be inpacts, but only time will show the reality...

Posted by: calvin smith | March 28, 2013 7:14 AM    Report this comment

The stop sign analogy is clear, and it is simple. However, air traffic can't simply stop. A better comparison would be a traffic circle or "rotary." We're still getting used to those in Wisconsin. Heads up, yield to traffic "in the pattern" (circle) and play nice. If you don't like what's developing, bail out (of the pattern - not the plane)! Waukesha (UES) reports, as I recall, some 70,000 operations per year; No airlines, but a mix of corporate and GA - some of which are fast and heavy. When I trained there in the '60's and '70's, it was busier with several planes in or around the pattern on nice days. I recall no collisions and rarely any close calls. Heads-up flying may be a lost skill in some quarters, but that can be re-learned. The tower is perhaps convenient at times, but not vital to life and limb.

Posted by: Robert Falconer | March 28, 2013 7:22 AM    Report this comment

Well, regardless of how the morons in Washington managed to create this mess, its up to us pilots to step up and make it work safely. We are going to have to be alert, fly patterns precisely and tight, follow the rules, be courteous and proffessional. I like the idea of keeping the tower frequency, it would eliminate confusion and frequency overload on unicom.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 28, 2013 8:31 AM    Report this comment

I have to agree with Paul. I have been flying out of a northern Michigan airport for over 40 years. It has never had a tower, has always had at least one airline flying in and out of it and to my knowledge, has never had an accident related to its non-tower status. I have found some of the airline-flying public here astonished at that fact, however when I explain to them that it's always been that way and pilots are always in contact with each other, they seen to understand it's not a safety issue.

Posted by: Joey Arbaugh | March 28, 2013 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Class D airspace exists only in conjunction with an operating tower. No tower, no Class D.

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | March 28, 2013 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Well, they could call the airspace D-lite

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 28, 2013 10:48 AM    Report this comment

A previous commenter likened an uncontrolled airport to a four way intersections with stop signs. These are being replaced with roundabouts. They are safer and cost less money to maintain. So what would the airport "roundabout" look like and how would it operate?

Posted by: j rood | March 28, 2013 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Richard Montague just won the thread!

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | March 28, 2013 12:46 PM    Report this comment

"So what would the airport "roundabout" look like and how would it operate?"

Check the diagram for the standard traffic pattern at uncontrolled fields. It works really well when everybody follows the procedure.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 28, 2013 12:47 PM    Report this comment

Delightful suggestion, Richard :)

Posted by: David Miller | March 28, 2013 1:01 PM    Report this comment

There seems to be some interest in the roundabout idea I introduced a few days ago.It's true the standard pattern is almost a roundabout. The problem is that few actual rules exist for the pattern now, only a recommended system in an FAA Advisory Circular, with just one standard entry. The standard entry is convenient for pilots approaching from that side. Others coming from the opposite side generally make up something like "entering midfield" or " entering crosswind" or worse "straight in". I think the concept could be improved if the FAA required some sensible roundabout rules. For example, there should be at least two standard entry points into the roundabout pattern. Such as from the south or north for an east/ west runway. Gliders, jets, etc. have special needs, but I think it could Work for all. They created a self serve system at "FISK" for Airventure which has traffic volumes far beyond what a normal tower could handle. Some similar ideas could work at almost all airports, not just Oshkosh

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 28, 2013 3:03 PM    Report this comment

Richard, just when I thought nothing about the sequester could be funny--well done!

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | March 28, 2013 9:37 PM    Report this comment

I guess I am being selfish about this, but I am glad some towers are being closed. I can hear well enough to understand when other pilots give a postion report near an airport and can tell what their intensions are, but I cannot hear well enough to fly into a towered airport. Actually, I can if I can get the tower operator to talk slowly, but often they don't like to do that. Now with tower closure I will be able to fly into Yakima, Spokane, and moses Lake (Washington). It will make it easier for me to plan long flights because in some areas like Arizona and Nevada the non-tower airports with fuel are far apart. I fly a Cessna 150.I learned to fly in the 1940's When we all flew the incoming landing pattern the same way.

Posted by: Stan Comer | March 28, 2013 10:10 PM    Report this comment

Stan Comer makes a good point about how in "the old days" when radios were not universal everyone pretty much flew the standard pattern. You knew what to expect and where to look.

Today at both towered and non-towered airports you routinely deal with a lot more variety of pattern entrance technique, be it directed by a tower controller or self-initiated at uncontrolled fields. Having the option of non-standard entries saves, collectively speaking, a huge amount of time & money, but should always be used judiciously around other traffic and I think especially so at a “closed tower” facility.

It would be good to remember that many pilots, for various reasons, rarely fly into uncontrolled fields and are not attuned to the fine art of self-sequencing, and statistically you are sure to encounter more of this group at a previously towered field. Adding confusion to the mix with uncontrolled-field exotica like the “red rocket on initial” overhead blast-in probably should be shelved for the moment.

Posted by: John Wilson | March 29, 2013 9:51 AM    Report this comment

I have flown not OSU and Bolton in Ohio many times. I can see Bolton on the list, but don't understand the rational on OSU. At the latter they have a lot of training with the aviation and flight school, along with a lot of corporate traffic. This is also a major reliever for Columbus, of course Wright Brothers in Dayton without a tower is sort of the same, but without the flight training. So what giveson OSU (Don Scott)?

Posted by: Richard Mutzman | March 31, 2013 2:24 PM    Report this comment

I hope that someone can help educate me, I'm a new pilot VFR only. I thought the reason avgas was heavily taxed was to pay for ATC services for general aviation. My airport (OSU) is slated to be closed. At that point, I won't be using ATC services any more. My question is: if we are specifically paying for ATC services the FAA is taking away, seems like we should stop paying taxes on avgas?


Posted by: SCOTT POWELL | April 7, 2013 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Richard, from an OSU standpoint, I just know I've been seventh in line to land, while a row of planes was similarly ready to take off. And yes, there is a huge mix of student, corporate, life flight helicopters, etc.

Posted by: SCOTT POWELL | April 12, 2013 6:18 AM    Report this comment

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