Several weeks ago as the sequestration was looming, we discussed the wholesale closing of contract control towers at GA airports. Last week the ax fell, indiscriminately in many pilots’ opinion. This is an emotional issue, but as stated in that blog post, now is the time for a clear-eyed view of what is needed—not what is nice to have. Operational needs should always take a back seat to political expediency— or should they? I’m always confused by such things.
The hit list was pared down to about 139 facilities. As Katie Pribyl, AOPA’s Vice President for Communications, noted, the money invested in building the towers was committed only after careful review of the need. In a few cases the towers had only been open a year or so!
In addressing hundreds of pilots over the last several weeks in speaking engagements, many of you agreed that aircraft fly just fine without ground guidance, and there were towers we did not need. But the end justifying the means isn’t always the best way of accomplishing an objective.
My concern is three-fold:
1) The FAA’s “process” appears to have had little operational consideration, or at least not that the FAA was willing to discuss. Transparency in how the decisions were being made other than the “trust us” approach would have been appreciated. A better way to accomplish this might have been to set up a non-political advisory group with the FAA, users, ATC, and affected communities to look at the facts.
Yes, I’m insane, but this worked very well about 15 years ago when the National Weather Service needed to close about 400 weather offices around the country. You can imagine the uproar, but such a group was commissioned to do it based on fact—I was the aviation representative, along with NWS management, the employees union, heavy scientific representation, etc. It worked against the goal of no degradation of service. It took much longer than a few months, but airport operations are a much less arcane science than weather prognosticating.
2) The second concern is re-establishing non-towered habit patterns in the transition. Notams, that wonderfully dysfunctional system of burying critical information within the irrelevant, will become vitally important. Airports that had ATC flexibility may now revert to preferred right-hand traffic patterns in some cases. This can all be handled, but it’s going to take a lot of eyes outside the cockpit, good radio procedure, and solid preflight planning. To refresh everyone’s memory, the Air Safety Institute’s Operations at Non-Towered Airports Safety Advisor is strongly recommended as a review, as is the Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication online course.
3) Logic would also have suggested that this change become effective with the new sectional chart cycle which is staggered to keep things manageable. Don’t forget that hundreds of instrument approach procedure charts will soon be incorrect and will need to be updated as well. There were some cost savings in here somewhere.
May the FAA focus the rest of its budget cutting on non-critical areas that do not disproportionately target GA.
Can we do this better? What do you think?
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