Zombie Towers Among Air-Traffic Sites on FAA Closing List

A West Virginia airport tower staffed around the clock while having too few flights to be open at night under U.S. guidelines is among facilities that could be shuttered under automatic budget cuts.

The tower at Tri-State Milton J. Ferguson Field in Huntington is among 238 air-traffic facilities the Federal Aviation Administration today listed for possible closing under budget cuts known as the sequester.

The FAA also said it may eliminate night shifts at 72 towers and regional radar rooms. Fifty-four of those already met guidance for closing during those periods because of low traffic, according to agency data compiled by Bloomberg.

The FAA has been thwarted in previous attempts to close towers and radar rooms at little-used airports, including Huntington, because of pressure from members of Congress, Bloomberg News reported last year.

The agency would save $10 million a year by ending night shifts at the 102 U.S. air-traffic towers and radar rooms that operate overnight without the traffic to justify it, Bloomberg reported.

Among the towers that may lose overnight staffing under the FAA plan is facility at Willow Run Airport, near Detroit, which keeps two controllers on duty despite averaging about one flight an hour during periods after midnight.

Rahall, Ryan

Huntington’s airport is in the district of Representative Nick Rahall, senior Democrat on the House transportation committee, which oversees the FAA. Rahall said in an interview last year he encouraged the agency to keep the tower open.

The FAA in 2011 backed off a plan to end overnight staffing at Willow Run after pressure from lawmakers led by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, according to FAA correspondence compiled by Bloomberg.

Under FAA policy, airport towers can be closed during periods when they average fewer than four flight operations an hour. Huntington’s airport didn’t have a single period during the average day in which it had more than four flights an hour, according to data compiled by the FAA for a one-year period ending in June 2011.

Today’s list of small and mid-sized towers the FAA has targeted for closing includes one at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wisconsin, hometown of Republican Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan was the running mate of Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate President Barack Obama defeated in November’s election.

(Corrects Ryan’s committee in last paragraph.)
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.