CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The three West Virginia airports scheduled to lose contract air traffic control service in coming weeks because of federal budget sequestration provisions will remain open after their towers close.
But the directors of the airports serving Lewisburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling say the loss of their air traffic control towers, announced Friday, raises safety concerns -- because pilots and maintenance crews will no longer have controllers watching their backs as they go about their business.
After meeting with pilots last week to discuss the pending tower closure, "we think we will come up with some good work-arounds" to deal with the loss of air traffic control service at Parkersburg's Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport, director Terry Moore said Monday.
"But we're all used to having the tower cover our backs," Moore said. "We need to make sure the pilots and those of us on the ground are communicating and aware of everyone's location."
The Parkersburg airport's four daily United Express flights to Cleveland will continue to operate.
"Commercial flights operate from uncontrolled fields, like the airport in Beckley," Moore said. "The pilots flying here will have to get used to not having a tower. We've been talking with Tom Cochran, the director at Beckley, to help us get acquainted with the procedures and policies that are involved so we can make the transition here be a little smoother."
While Moore said the Parkersburg airport would survive the loss of its tower, that doesn't mean he isn't "upset and angry" that it's happening.
The FAA's decision to close contract towers at the three West Virginia locations, along with 146 other airports across the nation, starting April 7, "was made with no logical method, and with no planning at all," Moore said. "It was a knee-jerk reaction."
At the Parkersburg airport, the Federal Aviation Administration owns the control tower and the navigational gear inside, including the controls to the airport's rotating beacon, runway lights and emergency siren. Whether airport personnel will have access to those controls remains an unanswered question, Moore said.
"We don't own the frequency to the system that lets the pilots remotely turn on the runway lights themselves after the tower closes at night," he added. "Will we be able to use it? Will the FAA keep paying the utilities for the tower? The lack of planning is making things a little dysfunctional."