BROOMFIELD – It was finished just last year at a cost of close to $24 million and was built to help the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport handle 110,000 takeoffs and landings a year. Yet, should Congress not figure out a way to avoid a series of automatic federal cuts, the brand new 124-foot-tall air traffic control tower could very well go unstaffed and unused.
“Yeah, we’re a pawn in this game. There’s no question about it,” airport director Kenny Maenpa said.
The FAA has announced plans to close as many as 100 air traffic control towers across the country should the sequester go through. The deadline for Congress to reach a deal is Friday. In addition to the tower at Rocky Mountain Metro, the tower at Front Range Airport east of DIA is also in jeopardy.
The airports would not have to close, but would have to operate without a control tower keeping in touch with pilots.
“It’s kind of like taking a signaled four-way intersection and overnight removing those stop lights, turning it into a four-way stop,” Maenpa said.
The FAA announced the possible cuts as it prepares to reduce expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. Commercial flights will be impacted as well, warned U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, due in large part to mandated employee furloughs.
“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff,” wrote LaHood in a letter to members of the aviation industry.
A spokesperson for DIA could not say as of Monday what specific delays might be experienced in Denver.
John Caldara, the President of the fiscally-conservative Independence Institute, said on Monday the proposed cuts are nothing more than cheap scare tactics.
“It’s time to stare Washington down and say, ‘You can’t scare me. The boogeyman doesn’t exist. We’re in control and we’re going to force you to talk about real spending cuts,'” Caldara said. “I think it’s good to call the President’s bluff; let him put out all of these scary things that might happen, and when we don’t flinch maybe he’ll get the point that we need to start talking about real spending cuts.”
Caldera said the across-the-board cuts are specifically designed to try to impact as many people as possible in order to compel them to ask for change.
“When you want to scare people, you threaten to cut things very close to them,” he said. “A little sequestration is good for the soul.”