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March 03, 2013

Sequestrationgeddon: Airplanes Will Fall From The Sky!

By way of background, I have a private pilot license (I can fly small, single engine planes like a Cessna 172, though I haven't in years). I flew out of an airport like the one described in this story and can tell you for a fact, it's fear mongering based in either ignorance or agenda driven.

Mayor David Crase and airport director Rachelle Powell spent last week writing letters to Huelskamp and other elected officials urging them to save Garden City’s tower, one of 238 at relatively small airports across the country set to close beginning April 1. Crase said the closure would “undo years of investments” at the local, state and federal level. Powell warned of a decline in flights and associated revenue from fuel or fees or dinners at the popular restaurant Napoli’s at the Flight Deck. Though it was too soon to know, she worried that American Eagle might curtail the only regional jet service in and out of southwestern Kansas — a constellation of gridded towns that dissolve into farm fields and ranches and some of the largest meatpacking plants in the world.

Mostly, Powell was worried about what she described as “a severe negative impact” on airport safety. While the early and late American Eagle flights take off and land at a time when the tower is closed, Powell said, air traffic controllers guide the two afternoon flights, along with occasional military jet training runs, medical evacuation flights, casino charters and private jets that have delivered people such as Dick Cheney, Harrison Ford and Huelskamp himself to the high plains.

If the tower is eliminated completely, those responsibilities revert to pilots, who must communicate among themselves to coordinate landings, takeoffs and emergency responses.

Wait, 2 of the 4 four scheduled commercial flights already take off an land without anyone in the tower? So it's done safely twice a day but doing it two more times will be....what?

At an airport like this (as opposed to ones in NYC, LA, ATL or even midsized ones like San Jose, Orlando, or Nashville), there's very little traffic to sequence and pilots have plenty of tools to work safely in and around the airport.

People who aren't pilots tend to have an overinflated sense of what air traffic controllers do. At an airport like the on in the story, the answer is not that much. They don't have radar, they don't have the ability to provide what are called "separation services" (which is what it sounds like...the ability to tell planes where to go to keep them from hitting each other).

Notice no actual pilots were interviewed in this story. My guess is most of them would just shrug if asked what closing this tower will mean to them. Sure, it's nice to have an extra set of eyes (and that's all a tower controller here really is*, though you can't assume they are ever actually watching) but beyond that, it's a non-event.

There's nothing inherently unsafe about an airport with this level of traffic not having a control tower (again, right now 1/2 the flights operate under these conditions already).

Keep stories like this in mind as you see more and more about how devastating the sequester will be. Reporters often have no clue what they are writing about, they are just pushing a storyline. They hope the accumulation of a million little cuts (and inflating their impacts) will force the GOP to cave.

Added: The reporter who wrote this story seems to be the same one who wrote the Rick Perry "Niggerhead" story.

*For the pilots in the audience, yes, Class D towers do provide some services but I don't want to get into the weeds about things like IFR vs. VFR, clearances, etc. Bottom line is, there's no problem for an ATP to manage an approach into a low traffic, non-towered field.

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posted by DrewM. at 02:14 PM

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