Although some pilots think closing towers at small general aviation airports may negatively impact flight safety and convenience, nearly half of them -- about 45 percent -- say they support the closings anyway and not even one in five believes the towers should remain open. And by overwhelming margins, AVweb readers told us that the FAA should be expected to trim its budget to reduce federal spending and that advocacy groups like AOPA shouldn't pressure the FAA to keep towers open at low-traffic airports where they simply aren't needed. These are some of the findings from AVweb's reader survey last week on the hot-button issue of closing control towers to meet budget requirements under congressional sequestration.
Although the tower at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Florida is on the FAA's list for closure (so is Wittman Regional's in Oshkosh) the facility will be manned as usual by FAA controllers through Sun 'n Fun. Under the sequestration closure plan, Lakeland is among 149 towers being closed due to sequestration cuts and was to be shuttered on April 7. But the big show starts April 9 and FAA controllers will be on the job the day before as traffic floods into the area. "Contrary to popular belief, the issues in Washington, D.C. will not deter the aviation community from coming together to share the thrills and excitement of the 39th Annual SUN 'n FUN International Fly-In & Expo," says a rather jubilant news release from SNF President John Leenhouts.
If the tower at the local airport was supposed to be closed but wasn't it's because someone convinced the FAA that closing it would pose a threat to national security. At least 24 towers that would normally have been closed under the mathematical limits set by the agency before sequestration took effect (fewer than 150,000 movements and fewer than 10,000 airline operations annually) were spared the budget axe and Government Executive Magazine posted a list of four main criteria that interpret national security in a variety of ways.
The FAA will close 149 federal contract towers beginning April 7, in response to sequestration's budget cuts, the agency announced Friday. The newly revised list is online here (PDF). The agency says closures will be phased in over a four-week period. At least 38 states are affected. Florida is one of the nation's most populous states and it also stands to hold the crown for most closures, served with 14 fewer towers unless changes are made before early May. The FAA says economic impact and threats to national security were considerations as they decided which towers to close. Some of the nation's most populous states hold top spots for the most closures, but one from that group will see very few.
The FAA was expected to announce Monday which control towers will close due to federal budget cuts, but now that announcement has been delayed until Friday, March 22. The FAA plans to eliminate funding for as many as 232 towers, most of them run by contractors, but operators of the affected airports were invited to make a case to the FAA why those measures would "adversely affect the national interest." Last Friday, FAA chief operating officer J. David Grizzle said the FAA has "received a very large number of responses" and needs more time to "review comprehensively the submission on behalf of each airport."
Canada's Transportation Safety Board is considering whether to investigate why the crew of an Air Canada flight ignored two orders from air traffic control to abort a landing at Toronto's Pearson International Airport last week. On March 11, controllers spotted a ground radar return showing an object near the threshold of the runway the flight from Edmonton was about to land on. They twice ordered the go-around but according to the Toronto Star the flight landed anyway without incident. The Star quoted a Transport Canada preliminary report as saying the crew told controllers they thought the go-around order was for "someone else." TSB spokesman Chris Krepski said, "We're assessing that information to determine whether we'll pursue a full investigation." Meanwhile, there will be another investigation on how a driverless van was able to run amok at the airport to start the whole thing.
The NTSB issued five safety alerts on Tuesday that aim to highlight the five most frequent errors that cause general aviation accidents. "We see the same types of accidents over and over again," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "What's especially tragic is that so many of these accidents are entirely preventable." The alerts remind pilots to develop effective risk-management strategies, pay close attention to maintenance issues and always conduct a careful diagnostic flight after leaving the shop, be vigilant when flying at night or in reduced visibility, and be sure to understand stalls and how to prevent them. One alert, aimed at mechanics, reminds them to carefully follow procedures when conducting inspections and maintaining aircraft.
Sun 'n Fun will hire air traffic controllers on its own if necessary to staff the annual airshow and fly-in next month. President Lites Leenhouts told the Lakeland Ledger paying controllers would reduce the amount of money the organization can give to aviation scholarships but it will do what it must to ensure a safe and orderly air traffic flow at the show. "The public won't know the difference," Leenhouts said. "We're doing everything we can to ensure there are qualified controllers in the tower during all hours of operation." Lakeland Linder Airport is among a reported 173 airports across the country that have been targeted for closure due to budget restrictions imposed by sequestration and a final decision will be made March 18. The towers may close as early as April 7. Airport officials have until Wednesday to appeal the closure notice and Lakeland Linder director Gene Conrad told the Ledger he will cite Sun 'n Fun as a reason to keep the tower open.
The NTSB Friday announced it will meet next week to consider issuing Safety Alerts to the general aviation community as an effort to help curb the number of accidents and fatalities associated with the segment. Safety Alerts are outlines that offer practical remedies for specific safety issues. There are five areas of concern that will be considered at a March 12 meeting. They include inattention to mechanical problems, risk management, stalls and controlled flight into terrain. The meeting will be available to pilots via live webcast.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, terrorists stabbed individuals while hijacking a jet that would later crash into the World Trade Center's North Tower, and on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, the TSA announced certain knives banned after 2001 would again be permitted on airliners. TSA Administrator John Pistole said the new rules would be put in place on U.S. planes beginning April 25. According to Pistole, permitted items will include foldable non-locking or fixed blades without a molded grip, provided their blades are no wider than 1/2 inch and no longer than 2.36 inches. Box cutters and razor blades will still be prohibited. Representatives of the federal air marshal and flight attendant communities have voiced objections to the announced changes.