A U.S. Congress member was not an airplane passenger at the Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday. Instead, she visited to draw attention to an important safety issue.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri’s Fourth District said she does not agree with the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close the air traffic control tower at the airport.
“Certainly I was very concerned with the FAA’s decision to close the control tower. I believe that is certainly ill-advised and I have written a letter to the FAA administrator questioning their decision to do that. We are still waiting his response,” Hartzler said.
Due to sequestration cuts, the FAA stands to lose $637 million. This means the looming closure of the Columbia Regional Airport's control tower. Hartzler, a Republican, said these federal budget cuts should not lead to the tower's shutdown.
“Sequestration only provides for a 5 percent across the board cut. And with the contract control towers, like Columbia’s, it is a 75 percent cut. They have, it seems to me, targeted these very safe, economical control towers and I disagree with the way they have administered the sequestration,” Hartzler said.
The FAA reported Columbia and Branson were the only two airports in Missouri that will have to shut down their towers. There are 149 total control towers in the U.S. being forced to close.
Columbia Regional Airport will have to rely on Springfield-based Mizzou Approach Control for its landing and departure communications.
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid also disagrees with this change because it affects the people using the airport.
“The FAA is saying it’s not a safety issue because it will be controlled out of Springfield. Well, somebody’s got to be sweeping the runways to make sure there’s no debris on the runway. I guess we can do that with a pickup truck. Somebody needs to be out there making sure there’s no deer running across the runway. There are basic safety issues like that that used to be relegated to a control tower,” McDavid said.
Hartzler said she agrees.
“It’s not only an economic development issue, it’s a public safety issue. And that’s what the FAA is supposed to be about. So, I believe they should fulfill their mission and provide funding for these towers,” Hartzler said.
McDavid said he believes it comes down to whether or not the federal government wants to protect the citizens.
“Let’s face it, a core function of government -- local, state and federal -- is public safety. So, the federal government is going to have to decide what their level of commitment is to public safety,” McDavid said.
If the federal government does support public safety and decides to keep the Columbia control tower open, Hartzler said it would cost $128 million. She said the FAA can find a way to let these contract control towers remain open by shifting budget funds around.
But if they can't shift funding around?
“Then we’ll have the FAA appropriations that’ll be coming up later this year. And so, we will be proactive in rearranging their budget for them if they’re not willing to do it right now,” Hartzler said.
On Friday, Don Elliot, the manager of the Columbia Regional Airport, confirmed the closure of the control tower sometime between April 7 and May 7.