Bill Towle, the director of St. Cloud Airport, said, “It’s certainly going to affect us from the standpoint of not having that extra set of eyes and ears on the airfield. That doesn’t mean that the airport closes, and it doesn’t mean that we will be unsafe out here. But we’ll certainly be less safe.”
The cuts resulted from a decision after the FAA was asked to cut $637 million dollars from its budget. Towle said the contract control towers account for approximately $37 million of that.
He said they’ll have to get used to not having a control tower. ”We’re going to have to be diligent about being on the radio. We’re going to have to make sure that the other aircraft are hearing us, and that’s not always the case.”
It was not long ago that St. Cloud airport didn’t have a control tower.
Towle remembers the challenges. ”We’ve been out on the runway, plowing snow, on the radio, and all of a sudden an airplane is coming in. They’re almost landed and we have five pieces of equipment on the runway. That simply does not happen when the air traffic control towers are open.”
Towle also discussed the job losses that will result from budget cuts. ”Today, they’re going to begin furloughing some of their FAA employees,” he said.
On June 15, the air traffic controllers working in St. Cloud Airport’s control tower–and those working in the other 148 towers that will close–will lose their jobs entirely.
Towle said losing the control towers will also result in a less efficient system of air traffic patterns.
Explaining how airspace works, Towle said, “You’ve got to get into cue somehow, right? And with more people staffing more stations, they can get more aircraft into cue and ready to come in. With less people and less stations, they’re going to cue those airplanes farther out. That means that instead of letting them all get closer to Minneapolis, they are going to converge on an area farther away from Minneapolis that’s less congested and less likely to come into conflict with another airplane.”
Towle said airlines are concerned about wasted money on extra fuel and time. He said, “Every minute they’re up in the air, they’re burning more gas and it’s going to cost them more.”
St. Cloud Airport has made recent strides with a new flight between St. Cloud and Pheonix/Mesa Area. Towle isn’t concerned about losing business as a result of the cuts.
He said, “It sounds like they still want to grow with St. Cloud, even though we don’t have a tower. But, it would be helpful if we did have a tower.”
Towle plans to continue pursuing flight service to Chicago.
He said he is confident about the future of St. Cloud Airport because of the community support it continues to receive. He said, “We know that the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation has made getting air service their number one priority. We have a very supportive mayor and city council that supports the airport and understands its economic impact to the region. We certainly hope the cuts do not have an effect on that support because airports are vital to the growth of a community.”