The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission voted to begin the process of closing Lake Murray Airport during its meeting Thursday morning.
Victor Bird, OAC Director, said the commission voted to move forward with closing the airport but there are a number of hurdles to be cleared before it can take place. The airport, which is owned by Oklahoma State Parks and Recreation, has a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration that will not expire until 2017. The contract was entered after the airport accepted a grant for airport improvements.
"We will have to ask the FAA secretary to relieve us of that obligation," Bird said.
The state could also be required to pay back $184,000 of grant money to the FAA. Bird said there is a precedent set in place for repayment and the OAC along with State Parks and Recreation, would ask that they be relieved of the financial burden.
"The secretary may respond because there is a contract and he may say there is a cost for that," Bird said. "I would respectfully ask if we could refund the money by reinvesting the money in airports in Oklahoma, which is the purpose of the money."
The little used airport drew national attention when it was listed in Sen. Tom Coburn's Book of Waste in 2012.
The commission also discussed the FAA's recent announcement to close contract control towers across the nation. The closure will affect six airports in Oklahoma including the tower at the Ardmore Airpark. Bird said he was encouraged by an amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) that would keep the towers open throughout the 2013 fiscal year.
""The President is playing politics with public safety by closing contract air traffic control towers across the nation — six in my state of Oklahoma — which is why I have joined a bipartisan group of Senators to stop this," Sen. Inhofe said. "The post-sequestration FAA operations budget is still nearly $200 million more than it was when President Obama came into office. It is difficult to understand how a 5 percent cut in the FAA budget brought on by sequestration can result in the shutting of all contract towers nationwide. This amendment holds the Administration accountable for the way it implements the budget cuts so that important programs like the contract air traffic control towers are not disproportionately targeted by the President's misguided game to make life more difficult for Americans."
Bird said the issue is about aviation safety, which would take a hit nationwide. Bird also said the contract control tower program in one of the most efficient programs in the federal government.
"The amendment to keep them running throughout the fiscal year would stop this foolish intention to close these control towers," Bird said. "The FAA rank and file are good people that are concerned about aviation safety like the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and I know that is something they want. Something has happened in the sequester that has resulted in poor judgment and this is not a good idea. We need to try and find a more proportional response."