By Matt Stewart
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There are hundreds of small airports like the Kansas CIty’s downtown airport scattered across the country there is an air traffic control tower, where the controllers help the pilots land and take off safely.
But due to the federal sequester, the FAA will soon shut down a bunch of these air traffic control towers, and pilots will be left to their own devices.
As of right now, the downtown airport will not be affected, but the Johnson County Executive Airport and New Century Airport will lose their air traffic controllers, as will airports in Topeka, Branson, Columbia and Jefferson City.
Midwest Air Traffic Control Service in Overland Park is one of three big private contractors who train and provide air traffic controllers for small airports across the nation. The owner says they staff 85 airports right now. But the FAA funding cuts will whittle them down to staffing only 13 airports and 400 of their controllers will be out of a job.
The sequester means a total of 168 small airports in the US will lose their air traffic controllers. The airports will stay open, and now there is concern for the pilots flying into these small communities.
“In essence the pilots are flying around in the airspace, talking to each other and hoping everyone is on the same frequency,” said Shane Cordes, Midwest Air Traffic Control Service. “They are busy enough in their own cockpit trying to figure out how to land their own plane safely without being distracted by worrying if there are other aircraft in their vicinity.”
Shane says by contracting to private firms, the federal government was saving about $2 million a year per airport versus staffing it with federal workers. They will now be saving a lot more money by not using air traffic controllers at all, but only time will tell if these budget cuts compromise the safety of pilots.