Sawyer Airport Tower on FAA closure list

The Air Traffic Control Tower at Sawyer International Airport is among 149 air traffic control towers now slated for closure. Two other contract towers in Michigan, W.K. Kellogg in Battle Creek and Coleman A. Young Municipal in Detroit, will also close. Three facilities in Michigan originally targeted for closure will stay open at this time. Those are in Ann Arbor, Jackson and Muskegon.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced the closing of towers staffed by contractors this afternoon and say the shutdowns will begin April 7.

24 federal contract towers that had been previously proposed for closure will stay open because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest, according to an FAA news release.

The cuts are result of sequestration – the $85 billion in spending cuts that went into effect on March 1 after Congress did not pass a budget.

On November 5, 2012, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of the Federal Contract Tower Program. Established in 1982, the program currently oversees 250 contract towers providing low-cost air traffic control services to airports nationwide.

Calvin L. Scovel, III wrote, “We found that contract towers continue to provide air traffic control services at a lower cost than similar FAA towers. On average, a contract tower cost about $1.5 million less to operate than a comparable FAA tower, mainly due to lower staffing and salary levels. In addition, contract towers had a lower number and rate of safety incidents compared to similar FAA towers, and users remain strongly supportive of the Program. However, we identified opportunities for FAA to enhance its oversight of the Program, including strengthening its financial controls and implementing voluntary safety reporting systems at contract towers. FAA concurred with all three of our recommendations to improve the Agency’s oversight of the contractual and safety aspects of the Program.”

Of the $1 billion that will be a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget cuts, $600 million will come from the FAA in fiscal year 2013.

With that amount, the contract tower program is facing a 75 percent reduction.

Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane Duray says an official statement on the developments will be released Monday, March 25.