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Air traffic control tower closings would have a minor impact on the Twin Cities

WASHINGTON — The tower closings, a side effect of sequestration, would target mainly general aviation airports.

Flying Cloud airport is used for general aviation, meaning flights by corporations or hobbyists.
Creative Commons/Peter Markham

WASHINGTON — The air traffic control tower closings Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned would come with deep federal spending cuts are not likely to affect traffic too badly in the Twin Cities, even though four airports have towers on the closing list.

LaHood said the federal budget cuts known as “sequestration” would slash about $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration budget starting March 1, leading to air traffic controller furloughs and tower closings at many small airports around the country, including at Anoka County-Blaine Airport, Flying Cloud, Crystal and St. Cloud, according to an FAA list.

The first three airports are part of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, but there are no scheduled commercial flights to them, MAC spokesman Pat Hogan said. The airports are used for general aviation, meaning flights by corporations or hobbyists. They’re “reliever airports,” meaning private aviators use them instead of adding to the traffic into and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International.

Hogan said a lot of similar airports around the country are already without air traffic towers, and while “having a tower in place does provide a different level of safety,” closing them wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on pilots using the airports, and wouldn’t affect consumers who fly commercial.

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(St. Cloud does have commercial flights, but according to MPR’s Bob Collins, a pilot himself, “It’s not as if it’s every-pilot-for-him/herself. In the absence of a controller, there are radio procedures for keeping an orderly flow of traffic.” Collins has an in-depth post on the subject here.)

Hogan said officials at MSP International don’t yet know what FAA furloughs would mean for the airport.

“The question is, if the FAA has to furlough a large number of employees, how many of those will be air traffic controllers and how many of those will be air traffic controllers at major airports,” he said.

Congress has about a week to stop the $85 billion in cuts set to take effect on March 1, though lawmakers could also undo them after that deadline passes. Both parties say they don’t want the sequester to kick in, but they’ve yet to find an agreeable way to undo it.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.