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March 24, 2013

FAA: Four Oklahoma airport control towers to close

CLAREMORE — The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it planned to close four air traffic control towers in Oklahoma as part of a move to reduce its budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Oklahoma control towers to be closed starting early next month are at the Lawton-Ft. Sill Regional, University of Oklahoma Westheimer, Wiley Post and Stillwater Regional airports.

The four towers in Oklahoma are among 149 the agency planned to close nationally.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers.

The agency will keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed.

Stillwater Regional Airport Director Gary Johnson said Friday the tower closure at his facility — the fifth-largest in the state — will cost five jobs and reduce annual flights by up to 20 percent. He estimated the airport had about 60,000 flights last year.

The airport will also see a reduction in revenue from the 10 military bases it contracts with, he said.

Johnson said he’s concerned about safety as pilots are left to coordinate landings and takeoffs between themselves instead of interacting with an air traffic controller.

“The layers of safety have been developed over time to avoid midair collisions and assist with the flow of traffic in and out of our airports,” Johnson said. “You still need that safety. When you remove that, bad things will eventually happen. The chances of a significant accident are increased greatly.

“Take all the stoplights out of a city and see what happens,” he said.

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