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Sequester could close Ohio State air traffic control tower

Pam Harasyn / For The Lantern

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Some say the Ohio State University Airport might see an increased safety risk due to federal funding cuts to its air traffic control tower.
OSU’s airport at 2160 W. Case Road in northwest Columbus is just one of 149 Federal Aviation Administration airports across the nation scheduled to lose funding for its air traffic control towers following the implementation of a sequestration plan by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration. The four-week phase-out of funding is scheduled to begin on April 7.
“The FAA pays the cost of providing air traffic control tower operations through a contractor,” said Jennifer Cowley, associate dean of academic affairs and administration at the OSU College of Engineering. “The approximate cost of this service is $650,000 per year.”
Doug Hammon, director of operations at OSU Airport, said the sequestration plan, implemented by the federal government to reduce costs, has had a significant impact on airports across the country, particularly in terms of air traffic control.
“What they say (about the sequestration plan) is that it is to reduce costs, that’s the bottom line,” Hammon said. “(The FAA was) told they had to cut their budget by a certain percent and they said, ‘OK, let’s cut air traffic control.’ There were other areas that were cut too, but air traffic control took a big hit.”
An original list of 173 airports were scheduled to have the funding for their air traffic control towers cut, but that number was reduced to 149 and released on March 22. OSU’s airport was on the list, despite an administrative appeal the university made.
Cowley said OSU has worked with representatives in Washington, D.C., and asked for their support on an amendment introduced by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran and others to the Senate Continuing Funding Resolution that aimed to stop the funding cut to air traffic control towers. The amendment was introduced on March 13, however, it was blocked.
The OSU airport air traffic control tower coordinates about 70,000 operations annually, including the takeoff, landing and ground controls of corporate, personal and student aircraft. While it would not make operations impossible, closing the tower could increase accident risk, especially with the wide range of flying abilities, Hammon said.
“Our concern is that we have a lot of traffic and a big range of pilot ability,” Hammon said. “We have more experienced pilots all the way to student pilots, so it’s nice to have that level of comfort that the air traffic control tower provides.”
For students involved in the university’s aviation program, the air traffic control tower provides real-world experience for those hoping to pilot aircraft professionally, Cowley said.
“Having an operating air traffic control tower enhances the experience of our students,” Cowley said. “They are able to gain experience interacting with control tower operators much like they would when they become professional pilots working for commercial airlines.”
Two students in OSU’s aviation program declined to comment on the issue.
According to a March 22 press release, the university will fund tower operations into May in order to “avoid service disruption to our flight education students as well as the numerous corporate and private operators that use the airport on a regular basis.”
The university also said it will await further instructions from the FAA before making decisions about the possible closure of the air traffic control tower but is considering options that could result in keeping the tower open. 

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