Sen. Nelson files bill to block closure

of local airport control tower

Reported by: Ryan Smith Published: 4/12 6:58 pm

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The FAA wants to shutdown local air traffic control towers to save money. The move will not only cost people jobs but one lawmaker says it could put people in danger.

They survey the sky and keep a watchful eye on planes coming in and out of local airports.

The FAA plans to close 149 air traffic control towers nationwide with 14 in Florida and one in Northeast Florida.

The director of the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine says a shutdown would jeopardize the safety of pilots and passengers. He compares a non-towered airport to a busy intersection suddenly losing a stoplight.

“Suddenly everyone’s got to negotiate that intersection on their own,” said executive director Ed Wuellner.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is fighting the FAA. He filed a bi-partisan bill this week to block future closures.

“My hope is now that I’ve filed legislation that these cuts are not going to come,” said Sen. Nelson. “We got them pushed off until June before they would start. They were going to start this month. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to get the funding.”

Wuellner predicts St. Augustine will handle more than 150,000 take-offs and landings this year, which makes the most of any airport in Northeast Florida.

He told Action News they oversee a high volume of flight-school training, which makes an extra set of eyes in the sky essential.

“It’s like a student driver you’re sticking him on the interstate, sticking him at that very busy intersection and hoping for the best,” said Wuellner. “Our job is safety like every other professional.”

The airport staffs six in the air traffic control tower. The airport board is coming up with a game plan to keep the tower open if federal dollars are withheld.

Wuellner says it would cost about $500,000 a year in operation costs, none of which would be paid with tax payer dollars. It would most likely result in an increase in rates for airport customers.

Copyright 2013 Cox Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved

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