FAA Spending Cuts Could Cause Minn. Airports to Close Control Towers

Updated: 03/19/2013 6:15 AM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

Federal spending cuts known as "sequestration" are causing the Federal Aviation Administration to cut $600 million out of this year's budget. As part of those cuts, the FAA is considering closing more than 100 air traffic control facilities at smaller airports.

Four of those airports are in Minnesota including St. Cloud Regional, Crystal Tower in Crystal, Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie and The Anoka County - Blaine Airport (ANE).

A final decision on which towers will close is expected by the end of the the week. ANE may be at high risk because the seven control tower workers there are contractors.

ANE has 400 based aircraft and two 5,000 foot runways. The airport had 80,000 operations last year.

"At times, the tower tells you what runway is active and it will direct traffic to that, much like a traffic cop in an intersection," said Christ Gabiou, Director of Marketing for Twin Cities Aviation, located at ANE.

The airfield was designed and upgraded in recent years to help relieve congestion at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

"When you get that mix of recreational and business use like you have here, it's really the pilots themselves who have to say, 'hey, is this safe or should I fly somewhere else,'" Gabiou said.

In a letter to the FAA, Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission Executive Vice President Dennis Probst wrote, "Closure of the control tower at ANE is not in the national interest."

"ANE provides an attractive alternative to pilots who might otherwise choose to use MSP due to the precision instrument approach and tower services," the letter said.

Pilots can land using a common radio frequency when the tower closes for the evening.

"A tower is going to provide an extra level of safety and benefit to the community at large," Gabiou said.

If the ANE tower is on the FAA's final closure list, it would close on April 7th. The FAA says communities may choose to cover the costs of the towers to keep them open.

Part of the FAA's plan also includes furloughing the majority of its 47,000 employees for about one day per pay period.