Editor's Note: This is a two-part series concerning the sequestration cuts that mandate the closure of the Ardmore Airpark control tower and the efforts of the Ardmore Development Authority, state and federal legislators to prevent the shutdown.
Political forces are beginning to mobilize in an effort to prevent closure of nearly 200 airport control towers throughout the nation. And that is good news for Ardmore, which has one of six control towers in the state slated for closure following an announcement by the FAA last week.
Citing funding concerns from the sequester, the FAA announced it would close 173 contract control towers including the Ardmore Airpark control tower. The Ardmore Development Authority is responsible for 25 percent of the cost to maintain the tower and the FAA is responsible for 75 percent. Towers at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City as well as Enid, Lawton, Norman, and Stillwater will also be closed. Ardmore does catch a break in that it will close Sept. 30 while the other five will close April 7.
"Four to five months is a great reprieve," said Brian Carter, Ardmore Development Authority Interim President.
Thursday morning, Chris Bryant, Airpark General Manager, along with Mita Bates, ADA Vice President and Carter met at the capitol with Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore), Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) and Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) to discuss the looming crisis. The ADA is exploring several avenues that would include cutting back the hours in which the tower is manned as well as moving forward without federal funding if necessary.
The control tower is critical for businesses such as King Aerospace, which has a $9 million contract with the U.S. Navy, as well as attracting potential businesses to the airpark. Carter said there are ongoing negotiations to bring a flight training school to the airpark that would generate a $4.2 million payroll and serve 450 students. Loss of the control tower would bring any such possibility to a halt. Currently the tower also serves training flights from Shepherd Air Force Base and Vance Air Force Base and the landing strip is the largest between Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth, serving as an alternative landing strip.
"The closing of the air control towers is extremely troubling to me and others within the aviation community because it jeopardizes air safety," said Victor Bird, Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director. "Eliminating air traffic control towers just to save a buck is not the wise thing to do. The risk is too great.
"We have thousands of take offs and landings every week at our 110 public airports, and each one, in their own right, provides access for many businesses that rely on general aviation aircraft to compete and grow their business. These are the companies such as Michelin in Ardmore, Goodyear in Lawton, Groendyke Transport in Enid, Love's Convenience Stores in Oklahoma City and Harrison Gypsum in Norman as prime examples."