But Which Towers?

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For reasons that should be obvious, the FAA is struggling with deciding which towers will be shutdown as a result of the federal budget sequestration. On its face, it should be simple enough: Just sort the towers by movements and lop off just enough to meet the required budget cuts. Done deal.

But as usual, politics intervene as it did yesterday in Connecticut when Sen. Richard Blumenthal showed up at Hartford-Brainard Airport pledging to keep the tower there open. Perversely, Blumenthal said he found $50 million in unobligated FAA funds that he said could be applied to keep the towers humming. Your government at work: If you find money, spend it; don't think of applying it to the vast debt you owe and maybe doing without a little. In case this has a familiar odor, it should. It's just old-fashioned pork barreling and is but one reason why we have such massive public debt.

I surfed over to AOPA's forum and have noticed a couple of petitions circulating to keep towers open at smaller airports. The two I saw—one actually for Brainard and another in Hutchinson, Kansas—got a chilly reception from forum members. AOPA called actor and aviation enthusiast Harrison Ford into the fight this week and that seems to have landed like a bag of wet cement, too.

What the hell is going on? Have we all become aviation self-haters here? I don't think so. What I think is going on is a rising awareness that government spending needs to be reduced and a willingness to give up something to do it. I suspect AOPA is, once again, out of step with its members on this, but who knows? So we're doing another survey to test the waters. Click here if you'd like to take the survey. It'll take about five minutes.

Although it might seem that the discussion is about the high principle of government involvement in industry, it's really more about how much government should be involved in industry, in my view. We, as a nation, long ago agreed that the government should make these kinds of basic infrastructure investments; now we're discussing where to position the spending level.

Seventy five years ago, when our little Cub was coming off the line at Lock Haven, aviation was a bustling growth industry, despite the Great Depression. Florida is peppered with airports that owe their existence to both the Works Progress Administration and a solid push from the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The War Department did the rest. This did two things: It primed the pump for desperately needed pilots for World War II and it set up the post-war growth of general aviation as we know it today.

The fact that government had a role back then played out again right here at my home airport recently, when the old main runway was rebuilt at a cost of $8.4 million, about 90 percent of it from state and federal funds. The fact that there seems to be wide agreement that it's right and proper for the federal government to make these investments suggests we haven't entered some new-age Libertarian time warp. Communities and pilots alike see the benefits.

But the tower issue seems different. We're starting to ask whether marginal investments are worth it. Pilots may be too smart to buy into the broad-brush towers-are-safer claim, although politicians like Blumenthal can count on the public not being similarly disposed. I suspect the good senator is actually quite clueless about how air traffic control works and the risks involved, but is pursuing tower preservation as an attempt at full employment. I'm sympathetic. It's easy to thunder about federal spending when it's not your job on the line. Still, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Where do you draw it? Take the survey here, and tell us what you think below. And look for more reporting on the issue later this week.

To see the potential tower closure list, click here

To gather data on tower traffic level and operations, click here.

Comments (100)

Keep all of the cuts! As the author said a line has to be drawn somewhere. An RCO at the closed tower locations is more than enough to ensure IFR safety.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 20, 2013 8:42 PM    Report this comment

If you remember a few years ago when Phil Boyer was pushing to privatize Flight Service, his logic was that it was so expensive it would lead to GA user fees. Seems to me like the tower argument is the same. We've got some GA airports around here that clearly do not justify having control towers - I'd rather call an RCO to get my IFR clearance rather than pay more in taxes and fees to have the tower.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 21, 2013 6:09 AM    Report this comment

And FWIW, I've gotten excellent service from our new Lockheed Martin flight service, at least when I use it. Usually I just fire off a flight plan electronically!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 21, 2013 6:10 AM    Report this comment

Many GA towers are just what Paul says: pork - they can just as safely be operated as uncontrolled fields.

Posted by: Al Secen | March 21, 2013 7:20 AM    Report this comment

PMD is a military base closed to GA and usually has no airline ops, just an empty terminal buiding. Why does it have an FAA funded tower?

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | March 21, 2013 9:22 AM    Report this comment

All of the comments here so far seem to be based around getting an IFR clearance. Am I the only one that feels that a control tower increases safety at some airports and in some airspaces?

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | March 21, 2013 12:09 PM    Report this comment

The FAA is a bloated organization, and as such, makes unnecessary rules and regulations to justify its existence.

The more rules and regulations you have to enforce, the more people you need to enforce them...

It is the epitome of a self licking ice cream cone.

There are several ways that the FAA could reduce costs:

1. Reduce and eliminate unnecessary rules and regulations (3rd class medical anyone?)
2. Reduce organization size and staff.
3. Close unnecessary towers.
4. Privatize tower and air traffic control operations (do you really need two controllers at night because of archaic scheduling?)
5. Eliminate the Rural Air Service Subsidy

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 21, 2013 2:24 PM    Report this comment

Some towers can be closed, period. It all comes down to empire building IMHO.
Everyone says "Don't cut my funding, cut the other guys!" and that must stop. Pork is pork no matter who's selling it.

Posted by: Ric Lee | March 21, 2013 2:33 PM    Report this comment

There may be some towers that could/should close. In this case though the FAA seems to be painting the closures with a wide brush and depending on numbers rather than safety.
Lets take N. Perry in Fla. It's on the list, has two sets of crossing parallel runways, has 5 flight schools, a banner towing, transient aircraft and is under Ft. Lauderdale International. In addition it is adjacent to a football stadium that has frequent TFR's.
It would be crazy to close, but is on the list.
What is the justification and reasoning behind the closures, except to cut spending? Where is safety in all this? If these towers are so expendable, why are they open in the first place? Just pork? I wouldn't think so, I give the FAA a little more credit than that.
I think the FAA was putting out a bluff, now they have backed themselves into a corner.
What happens when planes start crashing? We all know it will, sooner or later.
FAA has a big push on collision avoidance yet here they are opening up this deadly box and letting the GA community suffer.

Posted by: Jeff Grigg | March 21, 2013 2:33 PM    Report this comment

All pilots need to do a risk assessment before each flight. I have flown into 101 of the airfields on the closure list in both GA piston and Business Jet aircraft. Flying into those fields without a tower is not a high risk operation.

Yes the list can be tweaked but I believe that more towers can close down. Take the extra funds and then add FAA certification people to the field offices.

We need to pay our share.

Posted by: Charles Lloyd | March 21, 2013 2:33 PM    Report this comment

"Am I the only one that feels that a control tower increases safety at some airports and in some airspaces?"

Key is "some." The trick is to find them and close the others.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2013 2:34 PM    Report this comment

Operating in what is now Dothan, AL Class D airspace will become VERY interesting if it becomes Class E. The FAA only counts traffic that touches the pavement. Dothan hosts a very large number of low approaches by Army fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The speed and experience range of the aircraft and pilots mean that the Tower really does add to the safety in the Delta airspace. That being said, sequestration is supposed to be a reduction in the RATE of increase in spending - not a reduction in the absolute amount. Thus, IMHO, the Executive is looking to inflict the max hardship on the taxpayer, not the minimum. An effective manager would come to a different solution.

Posted by: Bill Castlen | March 21, 2013 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Sticking strictly with the tower issue, many towers are only useful for training purposes, especially out here in the West (Colorado, Wyoming, etc.). It's nice to only have to fly for half an hour or an hour to give a student some "tower time". But for normal flight operations, as long as everyone follows generally the regs and AIM recommendations, towers are pretty much unnecessary except in the busier locations. So my vote is save the money--and then don't spend it on some other unnecessary thing, whatever that might be.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | March 21, 2013 2:36 PM    Report this comment

Even if you think control towers always increase safety (and I'm not sure they always do), the question is how much, and what's it worth to you? For folks concerned about the safety aspect, consider the question of whether *all* airports should have a tower. If not, why not?

Government spending on safety (and all spending, really) has to be about risk/reward ratios. Safety-at-any-cost is unaffordable. And don't tell me the money should come from some "other" program you consider less worthwhile. Every existing program has a critical mass of defenders, and the finger pointing at other programs is what got us here in the first place.

Posted by: Vance Harral | March 21, 2013 2:41 PM    Report this comment

Paul B said: "It's just old-fashioned pork barreling and is but one reason why we have such massive public debt."

No. Why don't you look the real reason the debt is outrageously high, namely the $ 3 TRILLION spent on the Iraq War, which we were lied to in the first place and never wanted there either.

Posted by: Dan James | March 21, 2013 2:45 PM    Report this comment

I am sure I am not alone in having a tower clear me as number one for landing only to be cut off by another aircraft.
So towers do not always insure safety.

Posted by: Ric Lee | March 21, 2013 2:49 PM    Report this comment

One other thing I haven't seen discussed much is that safety concerns should be based on a best-guess of what the traffic will actually be like if the tower closes, not the assumption that demand will stay the same. I'm sure a non-trivial number of operators will take their business to another airport if their preferred towered field becomes pilot controlled. But that's a good thing: it redistributes the operations in accordance with the reorganized infrastructure. I admit that's cold comfort if you feel like you've gotta have a tower, and the nearest alternative is a long way from your original destination. But there's no way to reduce spending without some degree of pain.

Posted by: Vance Harral | March 21, 2013 2:49 PM    Report this comment

I fly VFR and I wind up avoiding towers simply because I usually go places that don't have one. I find it grimly entertaining that Oklahoma, one of the states most vociferous about the Evils of any and all Federal Government, is among the loudest to complain when those services -- here control towers -- provided by that very self-same evil Federal Government, might be cut. Having a control tower is a badge of honor for a lot of places and to take it away is a slap in the face because those places now believe anyplace places that loses their control tower is, somehow, "not important." Most people believe that, while airplanes are unsafe, impractical and not here to stay, control towers keep us all under control, else all us maniac pilots would run amok leaving smoking holes and burning hulks everywhere. Something else they don't understand is that we have NFCTs exactly for the purpose we're witnessing: they can be closed and eliminated with the stroke of a pen, but Federal towers cannot. Even though NFCTs may be arguably more expensive to operate on a day-to-day basis, there isn't much cost in eliminating them. The tower closures I've seen proposed for Oklahoma won't much affect safety. I believe that things overall will only get worse. And worse. And then, worse yet. Enforcement will suffer, inspections will cease and compliance efforts will suffer. Our aviation system will deteriorate from one of the safest to merely average.

Posted by: Kim Elmore | March 21, 2013 3:11 PM    Report this comment

If safety is the first concern, stay on the ground. Flying is risky, period.

But at a deeper level, we have to consider how aviation has evolved and is likely to continue to evolve. Numbers of aircraft continue to decline and the ratio of two-placers to bizjets is declining at an alarming rate. Why? IMHO the system has favored high-tech aircraft ops and discouraged the little guys. Taking out the tower would return some balance - and anything that encourages new pilots is a very good thing. Back in the day, soloing in 4-6 hours wasn't uncommon, today it is impossible. Aerodynamics hasn't changed a whit but the system has. It is enough learning to keep the sunny side up without the apprehension that goes with tower communications and mixing it up with Citations et al.
As we add more gee-whiz boxes and FAR requirements and all the rest, we cut the number of people willing to endure all that BS. We're competing with jetskis and casinos and a zillion other activities that don't have feds looking for a way to violate you. Close the towers and give the airspace back to the people, then they'll come back to the airport fence.

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | March 21, 2013 3:21 PM    Report this comment

If a pilot needs a tower to help him with his takeoffs and landings, this is not a tower issue. It is a pilot training issue. Or, rather a lack thereof.

Maybe a solution might be for an FAA man to monitor field operations at uncontrolled towers from time to time and ground those that seem unable to takeoff and land appropriately. They would remain grounded until they could prove to an instructor they knew how to operate.

Towers? We don't need no stinkin towers to tell us how to land!

Posted by: Jeff Land | March 21, 2013 3:37 PM    Report this comment

The above statement that the FAA doesn't count tower traffic that doesn't "touch the pavement" is incorrect. There is very complex traffic equation that includes all such aircraft.

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | March 21, 2013 3:41 PM    Report this comment

I laugh. The first mid-air at a previously controlled airport( God forbid it causes casualties on the ground) will have everybody clamoring to re-open the towers, damn the expense.
I for one, will park across thestreet from the airport I previously controlled at, on a Saturday morning, and laugh at the attempts of all the pilots trying to sequence themselves. The foreign students with virtually no English language skills will be the most dangerous. Ya'll be careful out there, hear??

Posted by: Richard Smith | March 21, 2013 3:53 PM    Report this comment

I wonder if some towers could stay open during the busiest time periods, instead of totally closing. That probably isn't going to make full-time controllers happy, but in this economy, I'll bet there are plenty of qualified personnel who wouldn't mind working part-time during the hours when they are needed most.

Posted by: Mark Schrimmer | March 21, 2013 3:54 PM    Report this comment

The politicians can't negotiate a compromise over the issue of an $85 billion increase in spending when we have a debt of approximately $15 trillion? We're doomed!

Posted by: bill ludlow | March 21, 2013 4:01 PM    Report this comment

To Tower or Not To Tower That is the question? The answer is who cares! If I can fly to Alaska and find my way back to within five miles of an airport then I believe that I should just maybe be able to fly the last five miles and land....with out a tower...

Posted by: Russell Roe | March 21, 2013 4:03 PM    Report this comment

How many annual operations is required before an airport gets a tower?
I thought it was 200,000 /year.
If not, what is the criteria to keep a tower?

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 21, 2013 4:10 PM    Report this comment

A lot of the towers are under-utilized and should be closed. Of the rest, make 100% of them contract towers. That would help the FAA substantially cut their tower operations budget without impacting safety of air operations.

I really dislike how the FAA / Administration is playing off the flying public's fear by implying planes are going to fall out of the sky and crash into each other and that their will be massive delays. BS!

It is time to cut back the budget and start simplifying and streamlining government services.

Posted by: John Rollf | March 21, 2013 4:44 PM    Report this comment

I am all for closing under-used towers and think most pilots are very capable of operating in a non tower environment. But I have to ask of the commenter who wants to privatize towers: who is going to pay the private company that operates the tower?

Posted by: Scott Thompson | March 21, 2013 5:08 PM    Report this comment

one of the commentators above stumbled onto an idea that has merit, but will likely get lost in the paranoia and hysterics; part time towers. Most feeder airports have the same crunch times as their big brother terminal fields; makes sense to have controllers at that time (as another said...sit back and watch everyone trying to sequence themselves with the inevitable non standard base legs and 'ad hoc' straight-ins and it could go from enterataining to fatal in a blink! All the rest of the time at these fields, you could take a nap on the active (speaking of which....which one is the active runway please?..oops no one there to break the tie). No radio? Clear the pattern.... Scary?

Posted by: Bob Roehrer | March 21, 2013 5:31 PM    Report this comment

Everybody knows that you can't fly without control! Just ask any of your non-aviator friends. Or the media. (Tip: use the phrase "pilot controlled" with those friends instead of "uncontrolled", it really makes them feel better after you tell them there is no tower!)

Posted by: Barbara Mathews | March 21, 2013 5:46 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Richard Wyeroski | March 21, 2013 8:25 PM    Report this comment

I fly out of a small private airport in NC. I rarely go into a towered airport. Granted, I haven't been into them often enough for a scientific survey, but I think it's interesting that, having been into four out of the five slated for closure here (I haven't made it to Concord yet), only once was there another plane in the pattern.

Posted by: John Worsley | March 21, 2013 8:36 PM    Report this comment

I was surprised at the list. What a bunch of sleepy fields! There is no traffic at Trenton NJ, Capital City PA, Fulton County GA, etc, etc. These places are ghost towns that never should have had towers in the first place.
Has anyone mentioned that some of the worst collisions in aviaition history occured at towered fields?
This is all political theatre. Close them forever. Good riddance.

Posted by: TODD PRICE | March 21, 2013 8:46 PM    Report this comment

I agree with closing the sleepers; but some (like my Columbus Ohio tower at Ohio State) have a lot of mixed local traffic....some days with all kinds of pattern work 'special VFR', with bizjets coming and going. Potentially toxic. The airport traffic area could be a free for all on some days, at some airports. Again, staff the places at the busiest times (6am to 10 am; 3pm to 8pm). Even at these airports, rest of the time is sleepy time. But I smell one thing for sure...can you say USER FEES? (under another name, but its coming)

Posted by: Bob Roehrer | March 21, 2013 9:37 PM    Report this comment

The safety and economics of our Aviation problem has more layers of complexity than just airport towers. It doesn't take a rocket economist to propose valid, common sense solutions. Some valid recommendations have already been posted on this blog. The problem is, no one in a position to do something about it is listening.

Posted by: FRANK R. SANDOVAL | March 21, 2013 9:47 PM    Report this comment

I am NOT impressed by Grizzle's statement, or his command of our language. Loyal, lifetime civil servant, he has learned how to kiss his way up and without causing his superiors any grief. His formal statement means nothing and towers will close - or not - at a pay-grade higher than his. A waste of time...

Posted by: Glen Cedar | March 21, 2013 10:15 PM    Report this comment

Part of the issue is that the rules for non-towered airports are antiquated and in bad need of overhaul. The rules date back to many decades ago, but today different airports have different kinds of traffic and different needs. Near where I live, Pennridge airport has jets that fly straight-in final approaches, and Van Sant has 1940s aircraft with no radios. They both operate under identical rules, and an old Cub is free to go fly the pattern at Pennridge, the pilot not knowing that a jet is on five-mile final. It should be possible to devise a non-towered airport protocols that take into account the needs of different kinds of airports.

Posted by: John Schubert | March 22, 2013 4:07 AM    Report this comment

"It should be possible to devise a non-towered airport protocols that take into account the needs of different kinds of airports."

But what are those protocols that are any better than what we have now: Self-announcing on a CTAF and flying an agreed-upon pattern, with agreed-upon turn direction, entries and exits?

As many have pointed out, the high-mix traffic airports are the ones where the largest risk exists and these probably need and deserve towers. Even some of the sleepy airports have bursts of intense activity. Unless these are predictable, even part-time towers won't work.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 4:51 AM    Report this comment

Paul, that's a fair question, and I lack the expertise to answer it. But the article by Jason Blair reminded me of one small example: at towered airports, the controller establishes which runway is active. At non-towered airports, an underling glances at the wind meter and answers unicom queries, based on what the wind meter says at that instant -- which may be at odds with what pilots are actually flying. Perhaps the busier non-towered airports could have a qualification program for people who talk on unicom. They wouldn't be air traffic controllers, but they could perform this and other functions more accurately than is now the case. Similarly, might we have different rules, possibly including a _requirement_ for two-way radios, at airports where jets and straight-in approaches are normal and customary?

Posted by: John Schubert | March 22, 2013 5:17 AM    Report this comment

The Dept of Transportation and FAA purport to have safety as their number one area of interest. To have them close all contract towers and 49 additional FAA towers carte blanche as their first reaction to sequestration budget cuts is not only nutty but criminal. People are going to die as a result of this ill-conceived decision. We pilots all know of many towers could be closed or have hours reduced but to just close them all shows how out of control these folks and our Government truly are. It's perfectly obvious that this was a move to make budget cuts as painful and notorious to both pilots and the public as they could. There are plenty of other places within the Agency that cuts could have been made first. Of course, this would have been the "smart" way to conduct the necessary cuts. Unfortunately, "Smart" and FAA are often an oxymoron.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 22, 2013 5:38 AM    Report this comment

Closing towers is part of Obama's policy of inflicting maximum pain and fear on the general population to make us pay for removing one penny from his spending agenda. Another part is furloughing federal employees instead of just getting rid of some of them to meet the spending limits. The assumption is we will all cave in and give him all the money he wants to spend for anything.

It makes a lot more sense to trim the excess manpower in the federal government than to close towers. We just don't need so many paper pushers, but we do need safety in the NAS.

The sequester is just the first installment of ten years worth of already agreed upon cuts. If we start by getting rid of aviation safety and meat inspectors to keep horse meat off the grocery store shelves then what will we do in year 2 or 5 or 10?

This is just political nonsense. The only sane way to implement the cuts is to make permanent manpower cuts in the bureaucracy. If this means reducing regulations to justify the manpower cuts than that is so much better for the country.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 22, 2013 5:46 AM    Report this comment

We all know that there are hundreds of useless towers with one lonely man up there with marginal social skills and a tuna sandwhich...What we have here is IRONIC. We have the FAA, supposedly that has air safety as a mission, now HOPING that there are accidents derived from a mass "pulling the plug" on all for the most grandiose of effect. Watch, when the first tiny incident happens they will be the first to say "See, we should have raised taxes and approved a bigger defecit again so airplane X and airplane Y would not have tango'd." FAA people are on a salary now cut by sequestration. Their BEST method of restoring "their salary" is to have accidents. Their best method of grandstanding sequestration is by pulling this plug instantly and HOPING for accidents/incidents. If FAA was smart and truly cared, they would pull them in groups of 20 or so about every thirty days to "phase" them out. But, alas. Hey pilot friends, look twice, fly smart, fly safe. We can do this. Close 'em!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Reminds me of a Dixie Chicks song
about an "un-needed" person named "Earl":

"Well the weeks went by and
Spring turned to summer
And summer faded into fall
And it turns out he was a missing
Person who nobody missed at all."

There will be some getting used to in the new normal for getting clearances, etc. But in the end, by this fall, these missing towers will be nothing more than a distant memory - a thing of the past, that no one misses at all.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 6:12 AM    Report this comment

John, call me crazy, but shouldn't a pilot be able to listen to an AWOS/ASOS, hear the wind report and figure out which runway to use? Or have we so dumbed down pilot training that now we need to be told?

And failing an AWOS, we used to use an actual windsock to select landing direction. Imagine.

These days, we have cellphones. We can use them--through a Bluetooth headset no less--to phone any facility in the country for a clearance and a release. We can do these things.

As others have pointed out, the high-density, high-mix airports are the ones where towers are needed and worth the investment. At Punta Gorda, Florida. Not so much.

Last, whining about being "punished" as a political strategy misses the point. Our survey shows that even pilots based at some of these sleepy airports with towers don't want them. There's an opportunity to save money here on a useless, unwanted service. We should seize it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 6:30 AM    Report this comment

ADS-B will solve the IFR issue with a tower closure. Controllers can go to other ATC jobs. There has been a shortage of controllers in the last 8 years.

Posted by: R T | March 22, 2013 6:32 AM    Report this comment

Paul B,

Of course you are correct. Uncontrolled airports are not a problem for most pilots and traffic. On the other hand, take a typical uncontrolled airport and put a few jets on instrument approaches and you have an accident looking for a place to happen.

It doesn't make sense to me to furlough bureaucrats so they don't actually lose their jobs and close non-federal control towers to further protect those precious federal bureaucrats. It makes a lot more sense to actually get rid of some of the worthless paper pushers on the federal payroll before reducing safety, even of it is a small reduction, by eliminating control towers. Cutting bureaucrats will only hurt the remaining bureaucrats who actually have to do a little more work than in the past.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 22, 2013 6:50 AM    Report this comment

I'm somewhere between amused and horrified watching the thunder over sequestration when the real debt problem has nothing to do with discretionary accounts like FAA. Pay $3T (thought it was $4T) for a war or two? Sure that's expensive, but those expenses end and can be paid off in time. Cut control towers? I agree with much sentiment that they can be useful, but unnecessary in some (maybe even many) cases. While we're at it, let's eliminate DOD (and no, I'm not serious).

Are there legitimate cuts to consider in discretionary accounts. Absolutely, and with that there may be a grain of good come of sequestration. However, I object to the premise these cuts will save the nation; that we should take this seriously, and do our part. If we fall on our swords for trivial cuts like control towers, the next argument you'll hear is that rich interest groups like pilots need to pay user fees to pay for them.

Problem is, none of these proposals deals with, or can even put a dent in, the real debt problem. Three programs are crowding out all other govt spending: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Obamacare may be a likely fourth. The sequester does not address any of these. All this hand wringing over cuts based on the specious argument that we've found the right culprits in the sequester is a distraction. Save your powder. You'll need it for the big three (or four).

Posted by: DANIEL DEDONA | March 22, 2013 7:07 AM    Report this comment

I did not read all of the posted comments and this may be redundant. Air Controllers are supposed to be paid on a volume basis. The more the traffic the more pay. However most facilities have had significant reductions in traffic (some 1/3 lost for years) with no reduction in pay. Reason, NATCA supported Obama. Instead of manufacturing a crisis just follow your own rules FAA.

Posted by: Charles Spayd | March 22, 2013 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Its not that budget cuts and sequestration and closing towers is going to put a dent in the deficit. It IS all about the fact that for the FIRST TIME IN HISTORY we have chosen a path other than raising taxes and increasing debt ceiling. In math, we take the first derivative, set it equal to zero, and solve. The result is called a CRITICAL POINT. It is where the curve changes direction. Its not the amount of change, its the fact that we turned a corner and we are now doing something different! Close 'em!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 7:42 AM    Report this comment

I don't expect sympathy on this Forum, but I am losing my job on April 7th. After 32 years (26 with the FAA in a high-density tower/radar environment ), I had hoped that this was going to continue another couple years. Two months ago, these closures were not even being discussed. I have worked as a controller at RAL tower in Riverside CA for the last six years, and have seen too many incidents caused by pilots who have NO idea what they are supposed to do. You ALL are going to have to step up your game, or people WILL be hurt ( some on the ground around the airport ). I personally, in that time, have made three "Gear Saves" and called traffic at the last minute as an aircraft pops off one of the local uncontrolled airports and doesn't call for the transition. I can only hope no one is hurt before this stupidity is fixed. Oh yeah, Good Luck getting your IFR release from the phone when it is actual IFR conditions.....

Posted by: Richard Smith | March 22, 2013 7:57 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I cited Punta Gorda/Charlotte County above. I don't mean to pick on the airport because the community has done a good job of promoting the airport and air service. We should all be so lucky.

It has a recently opened contract tower that will probably close next month. With about 150,000 enplanements--not operations, pax movements--the airport is at the very bottom of traffic counts for Florida airports with airline service.

It has the traffic mix you're talking about--some jets, some pistons, some training. But the traffic is hardly intense. Mostly the pattern is empty. So we have to ask, is the expense of a tower worth the marginal increase in safety it provides? At some airports slated for closure, the answer will be yes. At others, no.

If we want safety at any cost, why don't we require all airplanes of any size to have active traffic avoidance equipment and TAWs? No exceptions. And why not a tower at every airport?

The answers are obvious. We make choices and that's what the current discussion is about, even if it is sadly tainted by politics.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 8:27 AM    Report this comment

Mr Smith, actually most of us probably have a lot of sympathy for your situation. You too are a victim of politacal extortion, the whole idea of which is to get taxpayers to beg for a tax increase. I readily admit that any number of towers on the list should not be closed, but you have to admit that there are any number of tower out there are no longer justified or were never justified to start with.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 22, 2013 8:51 AM    Report this comment

Speaking of Punta Gordo...I flew a Citation II into Punta gorda last month. Huge airport. Nothing moving. I left the FBO burning kerosene (day vmc, zero wind) and requested intersection rwy 33. Nope. Drive 2.1 SM on the ground to taxi across 33 all the way to rwy 22. Hold short. Contact tower. We hold short and wait for the magic words, "cleared for takeoff." I'm sorry, but I would rather that there had not been a tower there, sorry for those losing a government job...it may be time to learn a trade and ck out this concept we call free enterprise!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 8:54 AM    Report this comment

Dozens of FAA towers have been downgraded (less pay) recently due to traffic reductions. I suggest doing some research before spouting off erroneous information. This isn't "Faux News".

Posted by: Jennifer Carr | March 22, 2013 9:02 AM    Report this comment

Richard, you won't get any sympathy by calling people names. I've removed that post, sorry.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 9:24 AM    Report this comment

At the 2 airports I most frequent, Fort Collins Loveland (FNL) and Greeley (GXY), both non-towered, there is a significant mix of traffic, from low powered experimentals and student traffic (including helicopter students)to bizjets of all sizes, military helicopters, and until Allegiant pulled the plug at FNL (citing lack of tower as its bogus reason, the very same month it began service to Montrose, which has no tower), a regular MD80 airliner. The only significant anti-safety effects occur when pilots ignore the normal "rules" for operating at non-towered airports, such as 20 mile straight in finals at near cruise speeds, B-52 size patterns, etc. But those are in the minority, and they would probably stop if more of such misdeeds were reported--we all do a poor job of reporting even flagrant violations of the regs, as if we're ratting on someone and may be next. But we have a duty to do that, if we're going to make the skies safer. In the meanwhile, a tower or lack of tower won't make much difference, if pilots who shouldn't be flying, either because of incompetence or arrogance, are allowed to continue to fly.

But the tower closures, whether they will impact safety or not, are really just a symptom of government politicizing. That won't stop without voter interference--and we all know how successful that's likely to be.

So as the comedian says, don't worry about it--nothing will turn out all right.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | March 22, 2013 9:59 AM    Report this comment

There's plenty of towers that are and always have been a sleepy little fields, completely unnecessary. They shouldn't have ever been opened or funded. They could be closed with no affect on anyone.

The trouble with government finance is they don't recognize these facts. Government finance results in huge waste, and all the time too.

This sequestration is just to make noise. "Vote for tax increases or we will have to close control towers that are needed, because if we don't get your yes vote we'll only have enough money for useless control towers, 3rd class medicals and $5,000 coffee pots".

Do I sound cynical?

Posted by: Steve Waechter | March 22, 2013 10:37 AM    Report this comment

My home base is towered, though my regular (once every month or two) destination is non-towered (and inside the DC SFRA and FRZ, depending on which of two airports I use). The destination airports I fly to definitely don't require a tower with the air traffic they get, though it could be argued that my home base does deserve the tower...at times. The problem is, most days out of the year it could easily get by without one. However, the summer months are when it should have a tower. Between the charter flights, transient, and flight training, it's not unusual to be number 5 for takeoff or landing. Add in the fact that IFR arrivals are for the (usually) opposite-facing runway and one of the cross runways has an approach through a valley, and there is a higher chance of some sort of runway incursion without an operating tower.

However, my real concern (now that I've had time to think it over) is not so much that we won't eventually be able to get used to operating without a tower (as inconvenient as it'll be in trying to get an IFR release during the busy times), but that so many pilots are used to operating out of a towered field. Throw them in to now remembering to self-announce and fly a proper pattern, and the first month or so could get quite interesting.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 22, 2013 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Classic government "crisis" (which of course is not to be wasted).

If it was my business to provide tower services, I would put in remote video, and radio equipment, would connect to Center or Approach radar, and would provide these services from a nice central facility. Further I would offer to INCREASE the number of airports covered. This would involve trivial capital expenditures at each airport, and I think would improve the working conditions for the controllers, at substantially reduced cost.

I personally like flying in and out of airports with "tower services". I really don't care if the people that provide those services are on the field in a facility that has to be heated, air conditioned and maintained.

P.S. This is the model that private industry has followed for the past 20 years.

Posted by: PHIL RYDER | March 22, 2013 11:54 AM    Report this comment

Phil, your model offers monitoring services, not control or separation services. That's exactly what's needed at some of these outlying airports. Clearance delivery help, down-time and emergency notification.

This has been proposed before, but then the FAA or the local airport burghers get involved and it's not enough of an empire for them to consider worth building.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 12:31 PM    Report this comment

Paul, Actually, nothing I wrote implies only monitoring. There is absolutely no reason why such a center couldn't provide sequencing, separation services, IFR releases, closing out IFR flight plans, etc. I agree that most airports only need a light touch and also the the FAA would not allow any of this to happen. If the Feds did go along with this idea they would contract with one of their usual "partners" and we'd see a 10 year billion dollar project that would be cancelled before it was implemented.

Posted by: PHIL RYDER | March 22, 2013 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Not sure I agree on sequencing and separation, especially for ground and tower ops. The technology might get there some day, but it's not there now.

And a remote operations that promises what it can't provide safely will be a disaster. Worth than nothing at all.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2013 1:52 PM    Report this comment

The problem with using cameras to remotely control something (aircraft sequencing for landing, remotely-piloted vehicles) is two-fold. One, cameras provide limited fields of view, and two, they only provide a 2-dimensional image. Airport pattern sequencing is a 3-dimensional act. Even some UAV operators have mentioned these two issues (sorry, I don't have a direct source at the moment).

You would also have the issue of bandwidth (high-enough resolution images at a high-enough refresh rate to be useful) and redundancy (what happens if the video link goes down, or the camera(s) fail). With radio, we have NORDO procedures, but with remote-video services, we'd need "NOVID" procedures as well (how would we as pilots know the video link is down).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 22, 2013 2:04 PM    Report this comment

Get your head outside. Listen on the right freq. Fly the pattern. Fly the aircraft. Pay attention. Its what we should have been doing all along...only now we are going to actually do it. Sequestration: Its a fancy word that means that those that cant do these things and shouldnt be flying, will no longer be flying...

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 2:16 PM    Report this comment

I just saw the official list of towers closing, and it included 2 of the 4 towers within 50 miles of my home airport.

Let me point out to those who are not used to using uncontrolled fields that there is an easy way to figure out what runway is in common use. While still some distance from your destination just tune in the CTAF. You will hear the self announcements of the traffic in the pattern and learn which runway is popular (any runway can be used any time at an uncontrolled airport). If you don't hear anyone then the pattern should be empty.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 22, 2013 2:45 PM    Report this comment

Paul, spellcheck won't catch your misspelling of "lop" as "lope." Attention to detail keeps us safe in aviation and correct with the language.

Posted by: Rankin Whittington | March 22, 2013 3:39 PM    Report this comment

Paul M.
If you listen to CTAF and don't hear anyone, it does not mean the pattern is empty. I am sure you forgot to say: " it means you need to look for non-radio aircraft or other radio equiped traffic using the wrong frequency". I know we tend to forget about these non-radio aircraft, but they do exist.
I think some (or most ) Towers should be closed, and maybe these busy former towered airports should then require mandatory CTAF.

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 22, 2013 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Thank you, Bill. I stand corrected.

The good news is those non-equipped airplanes tend to be going slowly and many are painted bright yellow. For those who fly airplanes without electrical systems I would suggest a battery powered radio might be a good investment. They are available these days for around $200 and work just fine.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 22, 2013 4:50 PM    Report this comment

Mr Gryder says it perfectly! "Get your head outside, and fly the aircraft". Just because you are flying a jet does not give you an excuse or the right to fly a 10 or 20 mile long final. Something a lot of IFR pilots forget is that when in visual conditions you are still responsible to "see and avoid" traffic even in a towered or radar environment. And those of us flying in a Cessna 172 need to remember that a jet with a 140kt approach speed will need more room to maneuver than a 172 flying the pattern at 90kts. I fly all over the country into all kinds of airports with an aircraft that uses the 140kt approach speed and have very little problem meshing into slower traffic without a tower telling me what to do. All it takes is a little consideration of the other guy and a little courtesy and we can all live with a little less government telling us what to do.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 22, 2013 4:59 PM    Report this comment

I was flying on the eve of Y2K. A whole lot of rubbish over nothing. Im feeling De Ja Vu. If you pay attention (like youre supposed to) you will be fine. Close 'em!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 22, 2013 6:55 PM    Report this comment

Of the ones here in SoCal, there were not many I could disagree with. Oxnard - always a mystery why it had a tower at all so close to Camarillos class D. In fact Oxnards class D 'apple bites' part of Camarillos. Riverside - not much going on. Fullerton - always semi-dead whenever I flew in. Whiteman - little surprised about this one as it was so close to Bob Hope's class C, but it also had the grumpiest and least helpful guy of any of the LA towers. Maybe worth it just to get rid of him. Victorville - why did it have a tower in the middle of the desert to start with? Same goes for Willam J Fox field. Why? However, I did hear they tried shutting down Hawthorne's tower, but some people I know put a stop to that. That's a good move - you don't want an airfield that's literally 2 miles from LAX and just under a mile from class B to the ground to be uncontrolled. Now, the should get rid of the ground frequency and the dedicated controller at my home airport, El Monte. The tower freq is more than capable of handling ground as well - it's not that much going on.

Posted by: Adam Frisch | March 22, 2013 10:20 PM    Report this comment

Well, the list has been released, and our tower (KBAF) is to remain open. I suspect that the F-15s and Blackhawks saved the day for our contract tower.

When the posted closures do take effect, things could get interesting... In the entire state of Massachusetts, the only towers that will remain in operation are ours, Boston, and the 3 Cape Cod / Islands towers. (In fairness, the Air Force -operated tower in Bedford will remain open, too.) In neighboring Connecticut, Bradley International will be the only tower in the entire state!

From the flight training perspective, our field will become just about the only game in town for Class D training, in most of southern New England. It will be interesting to see what effect the other closures have on our traffic counts at KBAF.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 23, 2013 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Thomas, What about New Haven, CT? They used to have a tower . . . I imagine there will still be some on Long Island too.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 23, 2013 11:40 AM    Report this comment

The layer of your proposed discussion that we should address is the real meaning of the term "Sequestration" as it applies to the Aviation community and not which towers to close, Mr. Bertolli. The masses have always considered aviators as the cream of human existence (without much contribution on our part to substantiate the credit). If we are considered the cream, we need
to ask the right questions. "Sequester" took a new meaning in our Congress in 1985. The closure
of towers and other cuts are based on the irrational administration's(past and present
administrations) process of bad economics used by wicked representations that sequestration is an
objective solution. Today's Senate budget proposal in four long years is an economic step in the
right direction if a proper bridge of compromise can be assimilated to reach the Congress, which
is doubtful in my humble opinion. Let us not misdirect ourselves by vain questions. If we preflight and aviate like we respond to your question, we are not worthy of the privilege.

Posted by: FRANK R. SANDOVAL | March 23, 2013 12:13 PM    Report this comment

Back on line after having a life after -- quite literally -- being on the farm for a few days. Paul, your response to my suggestions underscores that I don't have the expertise to know what to argue for. All I claim is a vague suspicion that the rules could be modernized to everyone's benefit. Remember when there was a Flushing airport, two or three miles east of LaGuardia, and you had to know special rules to use it? That made a lot more sense than handing a 41-hour pilot a sectional and saying, "go figure it out." More recently, pilots need specific instruction to fly near Washington DC, and all sorts of restrictions to fly into the GA airports near Washington. I don't know that all these are good rules, but they might _inspire_ good rules to increase the likelihood that pilots who use busy uncontrolled fields know how to do so safely. This might involve instruction, equipment, communications, procedures . . . . I dunno.

Posted by: John Schubert | March 23, 2013 6:33 PM    Report this comment

On the more general, and completely valid, point about governments and budget bloat and cuts, I offer the following: Whether you are in the government or in the private sector, it is all too human to "protect" your department budget by offering absurd responses to your boss's request to prioritize and trim expenses. Three decades ago, when I was middle management in a publishing company, I did so. And I was stupid about it. Much more recently, I found myself on a school board that wanted to cut budget bloat. Our administrators were initially aghast at the idea. But we worked hard to build their trust, we showed the attention span to comb through a $60 million budget one nickel at a time, and we actually found 10 million nickels -- half a million dollars -- of pretty painless budget cuts. That was a pretty big percentage of the non-mandatory budget items. And we didn't get it by being politicians and beating our chests. Rather, we got it by spending years cultivating the trust of our administrators, by being good listeners, and by working to convince everyone involved that we really were trying to do the right thing with our constituents' money and their children. That level of attention span, competence and compassion is pretty much absent inside the beltway these days, so I'm not surprised that sequester-inspired budget cuts are more stupid than they should be.

Posted by: John Schubert | March 23, 2013 6:34 PM    Report this comment

If you work in the private sector, you increase sales. Ask Russ Niles what AvWeb is about. More sales means more money, whether its wine or banners. The people that work for government also want to increase sales, which to them is more government programs, more budget, more people, more towers, more deficit, more taxes. Closing the towers wont fix the defecit, but it wont hurt a thing, and at least it represents a change of course for America. For once we didnt just raise the deficit, and increase taxes. Close 'em! Im taking a Piper Cub out flying on the morning of April 8. Im doing two hours of touch and goes at a former tower controlled field - and my Cub has no radio! Close 'em!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 23, 2013 9:24 PM    Report this comment

"If we preflight and aviate like we respond to your question, we are not worthy of the privilege."

I have no idea what this means. But I can tell you this: As of this morning, 1464 people have taken our tower closure survey. We'll publish the results tomorrow. In these hundreds of comments, there is no discernible thread of victimization. Few seem to be saying, "the government is singling out GA for punishment."

The sequester is a dumb way to go about cutting spending. On that, we all seem to agree. But that doesn't mean it doesn't produce desirable results. The survey seems to show a strong preference for closing towers at low-use airports. Pilots simply don't want them. Surprisingly, in many cases, they don't seem to find that they add either convenience or safety.

Bottom line, the very people who are supposed to benefit from these towers don't want them, yet the federal government has been funding them, in some cases for years. I have no doubt that some of the 149 proposed closures are mistakes and the traffic or mix justifies a tower. I don't know what that number is. We may find out going forward.

But the general sentiment seems to be that this is a start. In the overall scheme of the federal budget, it's barely coffee money. But at least we're getting rid of services the flying public doesn't want and doesn't need. Isn't this a step in the right direction?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 24, 2013 5:53 AM    Report this comment

This isnt the fix. This is only the point on the journey where we reverse direction. Close 'em!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 24, 2013 6:03 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Mulwitz:

New Haven (KHVN) is being closed, too. Disregarding Sikorsky's private tower at their manufacturing facility in Stratford (KJSD; not to be confused with Sikorsky Memorial Airport, KBDR), Bradley International (KBDL) will be the only tower left in operation in Connecticut.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 24, 2013 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Here is Craigs quote: "The likely effects of sequestration on general aviation safety and efficiency are truly frightening. The anticipated loss of thousands of FAA employees, including 600 safety and aircraft certification personnel and more than 1,200 air traffic controllers, the closure of more than 200 contract towers, and drastic cuts in the NextGen air traffic modernization initiative would have devastating and lasting impacts on our national air transportation system and everyone who uses it.” Now craig has represented AOPA and said that these cuts are going to be DEVASTATING for EVERYONE. Right...

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 24, 2013 8:32 AM    Report this comment

The big picture is that light aviation is slowly dying and being squeezed out from expense, complications of the regs etc. And the other big picture is government spends too much on the wrong things.
Imagine if every town had a couple new grass airstrips built nearby from the money saved from closing towers. The little planes would all base at the new grass strips for cheap rent/tie downs. The corporate jet/IFR traffic would have the old airport to themselves mostly with almost no traffic.
Everyone wins. (Controllers can surely find new jobs, as the old intersection traffic cops did)

Posted by: Bill Berson | March 24, 2013 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Canada took ATC away from Transort Canada (Canadain FAA equivalent) over 10 years ago. It is now a non profit business run by a board of directors with reps from all the stakeholders. It is not perfect but it works better and cost much less than when the Feds ran ATC, That is how American ATC should be fixed.

Posted by: DAVID GAGLIARDI | March 24, 2013 2:10 PM    Report this comment

British Columbia, Canada is where I do most of my flying. It has 4 Million people and a lot of flying activity. It also has over 50 paved airports, but only 7 towered airports. 6 of the 7 are within 25 miles of Vancouver International which is an area of extremely congested and busy airspace. All of the towered airports away from the Vancouver cluster were closed over 10 years ago with no effect on safety.

Posted by: DAVID GAGLIARDI | March 24, 2013 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul B, I am concerned about the immediate safety issue that all pilots will face in the next few weeks. That is 'What is the operating best practices at airports which will have closed towers'. What ever our common daily rituals at one of these airports, it is now changed. Many of the towered airports in Connecticut have crossing runways and HOT Spots which now are helpfully managed by the tower. Those familiar with Human Performance practices, Maintenance of our skills revolves around training, practice and familiarity. I suggest the next article be a reminder on best practices for some of these more difficult airport layouts that include G5s, Palatus, Bonanzas, and J3's. Closing airport towers may be justified but pilot safety awareness and operating practices is essential within this new environment. The FAA and NTSB are not in front of this issue, but guaranteed we will here about the first accident with clarity of Hindsight.

Posted by: Philip Potts | March 24, 2013 3:14 PM    Report this comment

I've flown to every airport (save two grass strips) in CT, and of all of them, DXR, BDR, and in some cases, HVN are served well by having a tower. BDR has cross runways where two of them are easy to get confused, HVN has some interesting operations at times, and DXR has the valley for the approach to 35 and a hot spot near the approach end of 26. I would be surprised if there are no runway incursion incidents (hopefully no accidents, though) within the first few weeks after their towers are closed.

There is one thing I've noticed, however. In somewhat of a paradox, because towers can sequence the traffic in whatever order works best for them, it sometimes makes it more difficult for pilots to spot other aircraft because they're coming in from all different directions. In contrast with non-towered airports, we're at least all supposed to enter from at most two different locations: a straight-in, or on the 45-degreen downwind.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 24, 2013 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Gary, I flew all of those airports, too. Including several years of charter flying. I also recall Danbury during the controller's strike when it was much busier than it is now and had a federal tower.

Somehow, we muddled by. I'm not sure what the canyon approach to 35 has to do with having a tower or not having a tower. But it will take some operational experience to see if these hazards are material or imaginary. It's not Russian roulette to gain that experience, but it will take an extra measure of care to build in the appropriate safety margin.

I'd say the only airport on the Connecticut list that absolutely, positively doesn't need a tower is Oxford. It never did need it, in my view. I was in there five years ago and it was dead. I doubt if it has come back since.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 25, 2013 7:20 AM    Report this comment

The one thing everyone seems to forget is that the towers were put there to enhance safety - a nebulous word until you start measuring it in terms of lives saved from an untimely death in a mid-air collision that could have been prevented.

The irony is that these smaller contract towers have had to continually justify their existence to FAA every two years by conducting a Benefit-Cost analysis and that the benefit (measured primarily in lives saved) must outweigh the cost. And they have.

Fun Fact - in fed gov't terms - you are worth $9.1 million as a fatality.

The proposal to close these towers is like taking a traffic light at a busy intersection and putting up a four-way stop sign. Works well at 9 pm but what about 7-9 am or 4-6 pm. That is where the statisical risk of an accident is greatest and why having someone directing traffic is needed the most.

Frankly, I don't think anyone thought it would get this far and political theater and brinksmanship appears to running amok right now.

But, perhaps the greatest loser in this whole episode is the FAA's credibility - they've spent a lot of time and money to educate the aviation community on safety and yet they have failed to assess the safety risk of closing down 149 Class D ATC towers simultaneously. You don't really believe that would have a serious or deadly impact on the integrity of the National Airspace System?

Posted by: David Byers | March 25, 2013 8:07 AM    Report this comment

It hasn't. The busiest I've seen it is maybe 4 planes in the pattern, with one a jet on a straight-in ILS approach. It definitely could do without the tower.

Maybe it's just because DXR is my home base and I've gotten used to the convenience of flying in and out of it IFR with tower services available, and I'm just looking for any excuse to keep it open. Perhaps in some ways, it might even be simpler without the tower.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 25, 2013 8:34 AM    Report this comment

“Close ‘em! Im taking a Piper Cub out flying on the morning of April 8. Im doing two hours of touch and goes at a former tower controlled field – and my Cub has no radio!” - Dan Gryder

I really wish you wouldn’t do that. I happen to believe a tower adds to my situational awareness when flying into an airport. With the tower gone, and different type aircraft approaching, or in a traffic pattern, I think all pilot’s should step up their game.

There is absolutely no excuse for not having a com radio in every aircraft in, or near, a traffic pattern. And, pilots should be using those radios to announce their position and intentions. By now we should all know that “see and be seen” does not work. I’ve hundreds of hours in the back seat of J-3s and know, you would have to admit you can’t see half the sky from there. I can’t see half the sky from the left seat of my twin, what with the low wing, engine nacelles and big tip tanks out there.
So, please be polite to other pilots out there; let us know where/what you are, and what you’re doing! I’ll give you plenty of room whether a Cub or Lear.

I wish AvWeb and the alphabets would stress this point. We pilots can make up for the incremental loss of safety from the loss of the towers - by our own actions.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 25, 2013 3:31 PM    Report this comment

"By now we should all know that “see and be seen does not work.”

Edd, now you know perfectly well this statement is demonstrably false. Only a tiny fraction of airplanes are equipped with traffic gear and on any given day, thousands of hours are flown without benefit of that equipment or radio contact with ATC for separation or advisories. If see and avoid didn't work, all of us would be dead. ATC still have visual separation in its handbook.

I think the fairer statement is that see-and-avoid isn't perfect. It's subject to human error and frailty, but then so is everything else in life. You fly, you take your chances. But you can improve your chances by having traffic gear, using a radio in the pattern and following the agreed-upon procedures.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 26, 2013 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Bertorelli:

As may be the case with most of us, my primary responsibility as a pilot is the value of human life
and the safety associated with it. I am well aware of the risks involved in aviation and the human
factor considerations and for that reason I take the position that the decision to close control
towers is a serious mistake. I also very well aware of the supposedly sequester across the board
cuts, but certainly other alternatives and options, when considering a mere 5% of the FAA budget, could have been implemented. Cutting 75% of your most cost efficient operations and targeting General Aviation airports hardly seems a sequester process, as irrational as sequestration may be. The issue for me in this discussion is safety and the value we place on human life. You, your survey, and your staff may be right in justifying the closure of “some” towers and I may be wrong. I certainly hope that is the scenario that plays out.

On the confusion of my previous comment concerning preflight and aviating, it was not made for rhetoric effect. I am confident that comments from Mr. Gryder and other similar comments have clarified any ambiguity I may have unintentionally expressed.

Posted by: FRANK R. SANDOVAL | March 26, 2013 3:32 PM    Report this comment


I have two compatriots who know that “see and be seen” does not work. In other words, worse than a grade of “isn’t perfect”. Neither died after a mid-air, but the healing and loss of their planes was painful. Both incidents were at non-towered airports and neither was a dolt. I have had two very near misses with NORAD planes while giving instruction at non-towered airports. Hence my recommendation that pilots step up and make a proactive step to replace the loss of info from towers regarding traffic.

I fly, I don't take chances, I mitigate risk as much as possible. Note, I did not mention in-cockpit traffic equipment. In Mr. Gryder’s case, I doubt the Cub has a xponder anyway.

I live at a private airpark. We share ownership, and thus the risk of aircraft operations here. We have an AWOS (affordable by any airport @ < $20K) and we require com radios and call-outs. Our traffic mix runs from ultralight thru Citation and we all get along well.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 26, 2013 5:05 PM    Report this comment


I know you’re a busy man, but also like to dig for facts. It would be interesting to find out how many mid-airs occurred over time at Corona AJO (non-towered) vs Chino CNO (towered). They are close, share the same Wx and seemingly similar activity.

In my 50 years of flying into, in and out of the LA Basin, it seemed to me that we had a mid-air about every two years or so at AJO but I don’t recall any at CNO.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 26, 2013 5:16 PM    Report this comment

You guys all don't seem to realize that the way government works is about like this:

If the FAA was spending $50 million on hats, you know, festive party hats, stuff like that-- And $50 million on the 150 towers they want to close.

When the time comes to cut and save the needed $50 million they would keep the hats and close the towers.

Many years ago I worked for the government, and there was a time of budget shortages. My boss came in my office and said "we have to make cuts, you know". I replied "we can cut waste, there's plenty to cut that is worthless".

This was the response I got: "No, we can't cut the waste. We must make cuts the taxpayers can see".

So you can see that given this truth there is no point in arguing "safety" or anything else. They have to make cuts the taxpayers can see. They cannot get rid of $50 million of party hats, because no one could see that. They can't cut out waste. They can't cut out the graft. They can't get rid of worthless government programs.

They can only cut worthwhile stuff.

Though if you read my post above I have a pretty good idea that a good number of those towers have hardly any traffic, they are at sleepy little fields and they should *never* have been put there.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | March 26, 2013 11:10 PM    Report this comment

Edd, I'd refer you to February 1, 1991 at LAX. Thirty-four people died when a USAir and Metroliner collided on a runway controlled by a very serious tower. I'd refer you to Sarasota, Florida where two Cessnas came together on tower-controlled runway where ATC was supposed to guarantee separation.

Of those 38 dead people--and there are many, many others--we could also say that air traffic control doesn't work. It failed them because ATC, like see-and-avoid, is subject to meaningful human error.

Why don't we put towers at all airports? Why don't we require them by federal law and require that all airplanes be on flightplans, in positive control and legally separated? We don't do that because as a society, for political, philosophical and fiscal reasons, we deem the expense not worth the benefit. But at some airports, we think that it is. So now, we're just arguing about where to place that line, fully realizing we can't cover everything.

Some years ago, when I edited IFR, I did a little research project at the behest of a couple of tower and ground controllers I knew at the time. It compared accidents at towered versus non-towered airports. The findings? There were a lot of accidents at both kinds of airports, including a shocking number at towered fields.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 27, 2013 8:17 AM    Report this comment

But then, as now, I couldn't calculate rates because I couldn't get flight or operations data. All I could conclude is there were plenty of accidents at towered fields, thus the conclusion that ATC doesn't work is just as valid as see-and-avoid doesn't work. Or maybe it's less valid by degree. Neither is perfect.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 27, 2013 8:18 AM    Report this comment

"we're just arguing about where to place that line" - Paul Bertorelli

I am not one to claim to possess any discernment to express whether the line has been drawn at the proper timetable of our country's economic turmoil, but I can tell you this, I am certainly for government getting out of the aviation management and aviation economics business, and it being replaced by the private sector. Should that occur with the closing of towers scenario, it will certainly speak volumes about the Spirit our forefathers were influenced by when they set out to put together the government they envisioned for this great nation. That is to say, the end result will be for the people and by the people, and for the common good, in spite or our different views.

Posted by: FRANK R. SANDOVAL | March 30, 2013 11:15 PM    Report this comment

If you compare tiny SQL (class D) with RNO (class C) you get 350 vs 277 ops per day and that on one runway versus two. If traffic determines tower staffing, the FAA should close Reno International before it closes San Carlos. And controllers at SQL have never been found sleeping on the job. Think airlines can't land at untowered airports? Go to Ketchikan and ask Alaska Airlines.

Rank each airport by the cost to run it divided by the number of ops and start with the HIGHEST quotient for cutting first, then work your way down from there.

Posted by: FILL CEE | April 3, 2013 1:00 AM    Report this comment

Contract towers like those run by Serco cost much less per controller and have fewer controllers per operation than those run by the FAA. Compare SQL and PAO for example. SQL has 5 contractors and PAO has 14 FAA. There are 350 vs 516 ops/day respectively. Each has a single runway.

Take a guess which was on the closure list and which was not, originally. SQL was later selected to remain open after they realized it was right next to SFO.

Notice NO FAA run towers are on the closure list.

Posted by: FILL CEE | April 3, 2013 1:12 AM    Report this comment

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