A traveler walks into the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport terminal in this undated file photo.
ALBANY, Ga. — The Federal Aviation Administration has upheld its decision to close the tower at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, despite an appeal filed to keep it open.
The FAA announced Friday that it will close 149 federal contract towers beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan. The agency will keep 24 federal contract towers that had been previously proposed for closure open because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.
“The first thing I’d like to say is that commercial flights in and out of our airport will continue,” Southwest Georgia Regional Airport Director Yvette Aehle said. “The only thing that will change is how pilots will be receiving their clearances. We’ve never been without a tower before, so we’re not really sure what to expect other than we will likely experience some delays.”
The local tower is one of five in the state set for closure. The other four are in Athens, Lawrenceville, Macon and Cobb County. Flights in and out of Albany will be handled by air traffic controllers in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers, and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The timing of the local tower closing is ironic since a new $10 million terminal is set to open in June.
“Needless to say, when we began work on the new terminal losing our tower was not on the list of things we expected to see happen,” Aehle said. “We hope people will continue to fly out of Albany because we certainly don’t want to lose our airport.”
Aehle said if the airport begins to experience severe delays, then the city might have to look at peak traffic patterns and go to the commercial market and hire personnel to staff the tower.
The director said five people who currently man the tower will lose their jobs.
“It’s a blow nationwide to those other airports, also,” she said. “These are very specialized positions. My biggest concern is how we will transition through this process, because right now we don’t know how the closure will affect our traffic.”
Earlier this month, the FAA proposed closure of 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration and announced that it would consider keeping open any of these towers if doing so would be in the national interest.
The national interest considerations included significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security; significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community; significant impact on multistate transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and the extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.