SMYRNA — Smyrna Airport is among three regional airports in the state that could see its air traffic control tower closed April 1.
Federal transportation officials plans to close 100 airports with 150,000 flights or fewer each year, if automatic spending cuts go into effect as scheduled March 1. Decisions on which ones will be closed will come out of meetings the Federal Aviation Administration has with air-traffic controllers and airlines.
As many as 200 airports could be affected, with closures to take place by April 1.
Smyrna Airport Executive Director John Black said his office has not formally been notified by the FAA.
“Our tower is only open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so our hours are limited anyway,” Black said. “The ones that have been targeted are towers that contract with the FAA. All other towers are directly controlled by the FAA.”
Smyrna Airport had about 80,000 flight operations last year, which is more than it had prior to 9/11. The airport remains the busiest general aviation airport in the state.
Other Tennessee airports that could be affected are McKellar-Sipes Regional in Jackson and Millington Regional Jetport in Millington, both in West Tennessee. The nation’s 251 FAA contract towers, which handle 28 percent of tower operations in the U.S., work together with FAA-staffed air traffic facilities as part of a unified national ATC system, according to a statement from the American Association of Airport Executives and its affiliated organization, the U.S. Contract Tower Association.
Rutherford County owns 60 percent of the airport, while the town of Smyrna owns the remaining 40 percent. The airport is the former home of Sewart Air Base, which operated from 1941 to 1965. The Tennessee National Guard Volunteer Training Site operates just across the airfield.
Black said the guard operations could aid Smyrna’s tower from being closed.
“It certainly adds to our mix of air traffic and their training schedule can require towered operations, so it could significantly affect our military operations,” he said.
Mike Woods has served on the airport’s board for 14 years and spent 25 years as the city administrator. During his time at Town Hall, Woods assisted with the transition of the airport from the control of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority in 1991.
“We’d hate to see (the tower) close, but we used to operate without a tower,” said Woods, chairman of the airport board. “If it is closed, it could possibly affect what comes in and out of the airport.”
Just last month, Smyrna Airport landed a $330,000 grant from the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board to help complete an expansion project that should provide at least 50 jobs. The airport includes a 400-acre commercial park that so far has about 50 acres developed.
“Things are going really well for us, so to hear this is kind of a shock,” Black said.
In December, the airport learned it had been chosen to host the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels at the Great Tennessee Air Show June 14-15, 2014. Woods said the federal budget cuts would likely impact the military as well.
“If the feds are making those kinds of drastic changes, the military groups might not be performing. That’s just my best guess,” Woods said.