By Yvonne Zipp
KALAMAZOO, MI — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration Thursday asking it to explain its decision to close the air traffic control tower at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.
The tower is one of 149 contract towers nationwide being shuttered starting April 7 as a result of spending cuts mandated by the sequester, which took effect March 1.
Given that the general aviation airport — the third busiest in Michigan — is home to the Battle Creek Air National Guard’s 110th Airlift Wing, Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation and major employer Duncan Aviation, Upton said he would like a rationale for the decision to withdraw funding.
“I am deeply disappointed by this decision and equally concerned by the adverse impact it will have on both regional and national interests,” Upton wrote in the letter, addressed to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and copied to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Ensuring normal operation of the Battle Creek airport is essential to the mission of the Air National Guard and U.S. military operations.”
Upton also pointed out that the continuing budget resolution (H.R. 933) for Fiscal Year 2013, which President Obama signed into law March 26, granted agencies, including the FAA, flexibility to reprioritize funding under the sequester. That authority should allow it to avoid shutting down towers, he said.
According to the FAA’s Air Traffic Activity Data System, W.K. Kellogg logged 81,337 operations in 2012. In addition to the Air National Guard, the airport is home to WMU’s College of Aviation, which, as the third-largest in the country, “fulfills a critical need to train the next generation of American pilots,” Upton wrote. The airport is also used by the country’s largest air remanufacturing plant, Duncan Aviation, which employs more than 500 people in Battle Creek.
“Given the strong economic, educational, and national security interests invested in the Battle Creek operation as well as its active use, the methodology used by the FAA in determining its closures demands greater explanation,” Upton said.