By Betsy Dolan
Sugar Land Regional Airport’s (SLRA) air traffic control tower will close April 7 because of federal budget cuts connected to the sequestration.
The City of Sugar Land received formal notice from the Federal Aviation Administration Monday. SLRA is one of 149 federally-funded air traffic control towers slated for closure. The announcement comes one month after the release of a preliminary list of facilities to be closed.
“Closure of the tower will negatively impact safety at Sugar Land Regional Airport, which accommodates more than 250 takeoffs and landings every single day, with more than 100 Fortune 500 companies flying into SLRA to conduct business,” said Phil Savko, Director of Aviation for the City of Sugar Land.
In the absence of the control tower, aircraft would take-off and land using the conventional, visual method which all pilots are trained to do.
SLRA is one of eight nationally-rated general aviation airports in the State of Texas and the number one reliever airport in the Houston area for both Intercontinental and Hobby Airports. Houston is the 5th most congested airspace in the nation.
“We are disappointed that the FAA did not agree that closure of our tower would negatively impact the national interest,” Savko says.
The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends September 30.
That amount includes $750,000 per year for air traffic controllers at the Sugar Land Airport.
“Loss of funding for the tower will eliminate six air traffic controllers and the operation of the tower which includes radar and weather systems,” said Doug Adolph, spokesman with the City of Sugar Land. “In addition to safety concerns, the tower closure will have an impact on the regional economy.”
The City is looking at various options including operating the airport without a tower and finding a way to replace the six air traffic controllers.
The tower at SLRA is supported by the FAA’s Federal Contract Tower Program and funded by the Airport Improvement Program, which is supported by user fees instead of federal tax dollars.