Don Gunter had just completed his shut-down checklist, climbed out of the cockpit of his company’s Cessna Citation XL jet and was walking into Atlanta Executive Jet Center.
It was the third stop on a four-leg trip as he carried a team of executives from his company on a real estate reconnaissance expedition to three states.
Business aviation is built on the idea of being an on-demand industry – going when and where business demands rather than when and where airlines serve. But if the government shuts down the control tower here at McCollum Airport and airports like it around the country, that will likely change.
There are 515 airports with active control towers in the United States. Citing the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, the Federal Aviation Administration plans to close 173 on April 7. Another 16 will be closed September 30. There are 48 other towers being considered for closure in this process. In all, 246 airports could be affected nationwide.
Those slated to close in Georgia are:
- Briscoe Field, Gwinnett County
- Charlie Brown Airport, Fulton County
- McCollum Airport, Cobb County
- Ben Epps Field, Athens
- Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, Albany
- Metropolitan Airport, Columbus
- Middle Georgia Regional Airport, Macon
The tower closures do not mean those airports will close. Instead of having air traffic controllers provide instructions for separation and pointing out other aircraft, pilots will have to fend for themselves in a procedure called “self-announcing.”
“In a high-density area like Atlanta, towers at airports like this are crucial,” said Gunter, who has been a pilot for 45 years. “So if they close this control tower, I may elect to go to another airport that does have a control tower.”
In fact, many companies like the one Gunter works for have safety plans that require them to operate from controlled fields – airports that have control towers. That would mean less traffic at airports like McCollum.
That will translate to money out of Thomas Huff’s pocket. He is CEO of Atlanta Executive Jet, which offers flight instruction, charter aircraft, as well as both fuel and maintenance for planes like Gunter’s.
“The economics of it worry me,” Huff said. “The safety of it scares me to death.”
Huff, a pilot himself, called the FAA plan to shut down control towers a budgetary stunt that has not been properly considered. The longer towers like McCollum’s remain closed, he said, the more he believes the government’s plan could go tragically wrong.
“Eventually, the math will add up in the wrong direction and we’ll have loss of life. This is the United States of America,” he exclaimed. “We know better than this.”