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Airport control tower scheduled to close

County supervisor fought to keep it open

March 12, 2013

Kurt Stanich, manager of the Waukesha County Airport, knew the outlook was bleak when he heard from the Federal Aviation Administration that the airport's air traffic control tower was on the chopping block.

But he was hopeful that the tower could be saved despite federal budget spending cuts to a number of programs nationwide that are forcing agencies to slash five percent from their overall budgets.

However, Midwest ATC Services, Inc., which operates Waukesha County Airport/Crites Field, recently informed the airport that the tower would be one of 173 across the country that will close April 7.

A final decision by the FAA will be made Monday.

While most are regional and smaller airports, the towers closing represent 40 percent of all towers in the U.S.

Workers in the control tower are "the communication" and "the eyes" for the ground and the pilot, Stanich said. It's a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled air space.

Stanich said these people "look at the grounds to make sure nothing is wrong whether it's low visibility for poor weather, separation for aircrafts to prevent collisions and to organize the traffic as we have a wide mix of aircrafts at different speeds."

"The loss of the control tower will mean a significant reduction in quality service to our corporate and recreational pilots," said Waukesha County Supervisor Michael Crowley, chairman of the Waukesha County Airport Operations Commission. "Aviation and public safety must not be compromised."

Six jobs at Waukesha County Airport will be lost due to the cuts.

The airport conducts about 60,000 takeoffs and landings each year, Stanich said.

An area of contention for Stanich and Crowley is how these cuts are being made. The FAA is cutting 75 percent of the Federal Contract Tower Program, while the remainder of the FAA is seeing a five percent reduction.

Stanich said its control tower is part of that contract program, different from FAA towers, which are operated by FAA employees.

"It's a disproportionate cut," Stanich said. "To save money they came up with a contract towers program."

Crowley said individuals had the opportunity to submit comments against the closure to the FAA at ClosureComments@faa.gov.

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