About a month ago America became familiar with a new word: Sequestration. I don’t profess to understand the complexities of American budgetary wrangling, but it was presented to us simply. To ensure that they were adequately motivated to agree on a financial path for the country’s future, US politicians put in place automatic spending cuts so draconian that no-one in their right mind would let them come into effect. And then, on March 1st, 2013, the unthinkable happened and the country seemingly sleepwalked into a new world.
Except none of us really noticed any difference..., for a short while.
The General Aviation community understands what Sequestration means now. The FAA is required by the process to find $637 million in cuts and on March 22 announced that it would close 149 federal contract control towers.
The FAA announcement is HERE and the full list of towers planned to closed is HERE.
I can look at this in several ways. I can think of the visit my five year old son and I made to the tower at Martin State Airport a few weeks ago, before the news was announced. The weather was bad, the clouds were down to IFR minimums and the controller’s workload was low, for once.
Having talked to the tower as a student pilot for the last three years, it was great to put a face to the voice in my headset. Perched on top of the original building housing the office of Glen L Martin, the control tower is an isolated, panoramic spot. The radar feed is invaluable; the Tower (121.3Mhz) and Ground (121.8Mhz) stations clearly marked out. While we were there, we watched the weather and notable items being recorded on the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) for the benefit of local pilots, and then being passed to Lockheed Martin so pilots further afield could know the conditions at the airport. I can pick this information up in a weather app on my iPhone, or via Foreflight (or similar) on my iPad. I can go online to see it via DUATs or I can call 1-800-WXBRIEF to get it from Flight Services.
These services, and our host’s employment will end on April 21st.
Have a look at the AirNav page for the airport and I will demonstrate why I worry about the closure.
On my flight last week I held at the edge of the movement area to one side of the junction of Foxtrot and Bravo taxiways and asked for permission to taxi to the end of runway 33. I was asked to hold to allow a plane I couldn’t see to clear taxiway Foxtrot coming from the other direction. Ready to go at the end of 33 I had to wait for three other aircraft to arrive one at a time. Before I could set off, however, I was asked to give way to a Learjet leaving on an IFR clearance. On another day it could have been a flight of arriving A-10s from the Maryland National Guard. After April 21 we pilots will have to work this all out for ourselves.
Let me think about the airports I have used during my training. Martin State, Frederick Municipal, Easton Newnam Field and Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional in Maryland, Capital City and Lancaster in Pennsylvania. All of these airports have towers that will be closing in the next few weeks. All of these airports are surrounded by controlled airspace that is about to disappear.
My thoughts also go out to the nice young man that I met in the flight school this weekend. He was there to put some student flight hours in as part of his university course to become an air traffic controller. For many of his forebears, these airports have served as a introduction to the career he has chosen before they have moved on to the larger, more intense national airports. He now finds himself in uncertain times surrounded by colleagues soon to be looking for new work.
I wish him luck. I wish us all luck. May we find clear skies and hear clearly stated position calls.