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Sequestration Cuts To Hit Control Tower At Concord Airport

flickr/Willamor Media

What's an airport without a control tower? One that can expect to see a lot less traffic. As part of the sequestration cuts to the federal budget, the Federal Aviation Administration has given the city of Concord official notice that it will end the contract that funds the tower program at Concord Regional Airport.  

Starting April 1, the airport's tower program will no longer receive funding from the FAA. So that means its seven air traffic controllers will lose their jobs.  The airport will remain open with or without a tower, but Aviation Director Rick Cloutier says it loses a level of safety.

"Well, an airport with a tower, all the movements either in the air or even on the ground and around the airport, an air traffic controller is on radar by visual, spacing, separation, all those types of things," Cloutier says. "Where in an airport without a tower basically the pilots talk to each other and announce where they're at, announce certain positions and kind of watch out for each other."

Cloutier says the airport will also lose a lot of business. He says that's because many insurance companies for corporate jets require they only use tower-controlled airports. Many NASCAR teams and sponsors rely on the airport. He expects many will have to go somewhere else.

"It has a huge economic impact to the city but it also could have an economic impact to other areas of the country also especially utilizing our NASCAR operations," Cloutier says. 

For example, he says, there are 400 NASCAR related charter flights a year on Boeing 737s that use the airport. He says all of that business will definitely be gone.

Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt says the city will appeal the decision and is looking for temporary local funding to keep the tower running.  He's still trying to figure out how much money that would require.

An audit report from the Office of the Inspector General (see page 5), shows that contracted towers are most cost-effective for the FAA. In 2010, contract towers cost about $500,000 with 6 air traffic controllers to run. FAA towers cost an average of more than two million with approximately 16 air traffic controllers.