By Betsy Dolan
Every day the Sugar Land Airport handles more than 250 takeoffs and landings from corporations and Fortune 500 companies flying in and out to conduct business.
All of that wheeling and dealing could be impacted if Sugar Land’s air traffic control tower, which is operated by the Federal Aviation Administration, falls under the government’s budget ax on April 7.
In all, 238 control towers across the country, mostly at small airports, are set to close due to the federal government’s spending cuts that went into effect this month.
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.”
How much of an impact is hard to tell but 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.
Sugar Land is also the largest general aviation reliever airport in the state and its ability to help relieve other major airports would be in jeopardy, Adolph said. In the meantime, the U.S. Contract Tower Association is calling on Congress to reconsider the closures and is warning of inefficiencies in safety, military and emergency preparedness if the cuts take effect.
“The prospect of closing nearly 195 contract towers nationwide along with 43 FAA-staffed towers because of sequestration is inconceivable given the very real impact it would have nationwide, and yet it appears to be a real possibility,” USCTA Executive Director J. Spencer Dickerson said.
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.
The airport is operated by enterprise fund, meaning it is self-sustaining and the city’s general fund is not used for airport operations.