Sugar Land Regional Airport control tower to close due to government sequester

March 6, 2013 4:23:12 AM PST
The air traffic control tower that helps keep the pilots and planes safe at Sugar Land Regional Airport is scheduled to close in a matter of weeks. The closure is the result of the budget cuts that went into effect with the sequester.

Each day, there are more than 250 takeoffs and landings at that airport.

City leaders say from the pilots in the air to the businesses on the ground, you can't put a price tag on the economic impact.

Bill Day flies in and out of Sugar Land Regional Airport at least once a week.

"I go to Florida, go to Fort Worth quite a bit," Day said.

As a pilot, he feels the FAA's proposal jeopardizes safety.

"We certainly know how, as pilots, to execute procedures around airports and in an uncontrolled environment, but it's always a lot better when you have a controller give you separation," Day said.

Reid Nelson, the owner of Tidal Aviation, is also concerned.

"I would be worried about all the traffic coming in and out and around the area, and somebody having a mid-air collision like we just had near College Station a couple of weeks ago," Nelson said.

The proposed loss of funding will eliminate six air traffic controllers and operation of the tower, which includes radar and weather systems.

While the airport can stay open, planes would have to land without help.

"Closing that tower is a really bad option," Sugar Land Spokesperson Doug Adolph said.

City leaders are not only worried about the impact on safety, but the economic fallout. Sugar Land has grown to more than 80,000 people, and dozens of Fortune 500 companies use the airport, where clearing customs can go more quickly.

"This airport is not a highway to nowhere. It's not somebody's special port project. It's an important part of the economy," Adolph said.

The airport is not supported by tax dollars so the proposal is somewhat baffling to city leaders.

They are weighing their options from operating without the air traffic controllers, to funding the contract themselves if the FAA would even allow it.

The city has until March 13 to make its case to the FAA. Right now, the final closure is scheduled for April 7.

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