Blaine airport control tower closing delayed to at least June 15

The control tower at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport will be open until at least June 15.

The air traffic control tower at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport was scheduled to close May 5, but it will remain open to at least June 15. File photo

The air traffic control tower at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport was scheduled to close May 5, but it will remain open to at least June 15. File photo

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 eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

  • PlayFair3

    What seems to be going unnoticed is the FAA has also furloughed all of its Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASI). Just like control towers, each of these inspectors is in place because risks were identified to exist without them. According to the FAA, ASIs are safety critical positions responsible for ensuring the airlines operate at the highest level of safety in the public interest. ASIs carry out their work at crew training centers, repair stations, dispatch centers, hangers, airports and onboard thousands of flights each year. These are the same professionals that are (were?) supposed to make sure that 787 battery fix continues to work during actual passenger operations – not just on some workbench. The FAA says having ASIs perform inspections aboard revenue flights is in the best interests of aviation safety and the traveling public and makes a positive difference in safety. A lot of those travelers may now be asking how furloughing inspectors and slashing a program that’s in the best interest of their safety can possibly be a good idea. How indeed, especially since the potential exists for this to involve a considerable number of airline flights and ultimately passengers. Considering the total number of furlough days for all ASIs is 30,800 (2800 inspectors x 11 days), it would follow that 30,800 must also be close to the number of missed opportunities to perform en
    route inspections (at just 1 inspection per day).

    So how can this be a good idea? The answer is it can’t be. Now, don’t get me wrong. The FAA has said it will focus on making safety their number one priority. But is the best way to do that really by slicing safety critical activities from a growing national airspace system for what amounts to 30,800 days of lost coverage? Incredibly, it appears this decision to furlough every ASI was not based on safety and there was no formal system analysis or risk assessment. These are methodologies, by the way, the agency is supposed to use and document when making such determinations regarding the national airspace system. No, these furloughs were simply the easiest way simple minded bureaucrats could avoid any meaningful decision making. As a frequent air traveler and one who is always happy to see an FAA inspector onboard my flight, I really hope this gets fixed soon.

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