The federal government’s financial meltdown is starting. That storm has been brewing for over a year, but not being especially adept at politics, I’d rather measure the impacts on the FAA in an operational sense and get beyond what some call political theater.
Let’s be honest—there are a number of airports around the country that really don’t need a tower. We’ve all flown into them where it’s just you, the tower controller, and maybe one or a few other aircraft having a very nice discussion. Often it’s about commercial air service where a small community has a few flights a day and not much else. We’ve also been to airports that were literally buzzing with GA traffic but no tower because it doesn’t meet the non-commercial threshold. Politics, or a higher standard of safety?
In some cases the traffic density has fallen considerably from when the tower was justified. Should hours of operation be scaled back or eliminated? How about the mid-shifts where one or two controllers pull all-nighters to service a couple of cargo aircraft, often arriving around the same time?
When the Secretary of Transportation made his impassioned plea to preserve tower services, were there any questions asking Mr. LaHood, “Sir, in the case of XXX airport which you just cited, how many aircraft movements are there between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.?”
AOPA is often asked by reporters about how one can possibly operate aircraft at non-towered airports. They are usually surprised to learn that there is a complete system that works very well. When Class D reverts to Class E as the tower closes, there is also an effective transition procedure.
Safety at any price is unaffordable. There’s reasonable safety, and occasionally the safety card is played when on an operational basis, it can’t really be justified. The Supreme Court has said that safe is not the equivalent of risk-free (Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute, decided in 1980). User fees are another issue, and the more unnecessary costs that are baked into the system, the stronger that pressure.
Nobody wants his ox gored, but might there be parts of the ox that might be expendable? In this fiscal environment, operational priorities need to be set and not political ones.
What do you think?
Towered or not, America’s airports are the backbone of our aviation infrastructure. Your support to the AOPA Foundation helps in the fight to keep these airports open and accessible. Consider showing your support through a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation today.