The Hickory and Concord regional airports are two of five airports in the state that may have to close their towers if pending federal across-the-board budget cuts occur.
The Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration released a list of airport towers scheduled for closure if their budget sequestration goes through on March 1.
The towers at both airports are FAA contract towers. The FAA – not the cities – oversees that contract.
“This program has provided important air traffic safety services to our flying community,” Terry Clark, manager of the Hickory Regional Airport, said in a statement.
Rick Cloutier, aviation director at the Concord Regional Airport, said it’s possible to still operate an airport without a tower, although “you do increase some safety and reliability with a tower.”
With a tower, traffic controllers in the tower are able to see the position of all planes in the area and control all landings and departures.
Landing without assistance
Without a tower, “pilots will announce to each other their position and the planes basically land themselves,” Cloutier said.
The airport in Concord opened in 1994. The tower has been in operation since 1998. Annually, the airport sees about 65,000 departures and landings.
The Hickory airport opened in 1940, and the tower has been in operation for 14 years. That airport sees 35,000 departures and landings annually.
Cloutier said he did not know whether the city has the legal right to contract with anyone else to operate the tower should the FAA end its contract. Officials are looking into it, he said.
Regardless, he said the airport will not close if the tower closes. “Right now there are more questions than answers,” he said.