The control tower at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport will be open until at least June 15.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a press release April 5 to inform the public of its decision to delay the closing of 149 towers across the country. Some were scheduled to close April 7.
The tower at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport were originally slated to close May 5.
Joe Harris, manager of the Anoka County-Blaine Airport, credited the FAA for recognizing that more time was needed to evaluate the operating environment at these airports.
“With something of this magnitude, it takes time to disseminate information,” Harris said.
Harris said he placed a call to the FAA to clarify if the Blaine control tower’s projected closing date would actually be June 15 or if it would be later considering the FAA had been planning to stop funding the towers over a one-month period.
The FAA announced March 22 that it would stop funding 149 air traffic control contract towers as part of the agency’s required $637 million budget cuts under the federal sequester. The FAA is facing legal challenges and the additional time will allow it time to resolve these issues, the FAA stated.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
Harris said the Anoka County-Blaine Airport has been working closely with the FAA, the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Aeronautics and Aviation division to make this as smooth a transition as possible.
For example, MnDOT has been helping Harris set up pilot safety seminars at the Blaine airport to get everyone talking about the operating environment and how traffic flows on the ground and in the air.
Right now, Blaine’s control tower is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day in the winter and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the summer. Pilots already have to broadcast to each other to maintain separation during the nighttime hours, but this would become a 24/7 requirement.
According to Patrick Hogan, director of public affairs and marketing for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), the Blaine control tower was constructed for $5 million in 1996. It will likely remain closed after June 15 until Congress can figure out a funding plan.
Hogan said it would be unlikely that MAC would pay the quarter-million dollars annual operational costs to keep this tower open because the airport does not generate enough revenue.
“At this point, we have no interest in getting into the business of funding air traffic control towers,” Hogan said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]