Moore said smaller cities such as Parkersburg "have struggled for years to have a level playing field" in terms of air service. "Having an airport with a control tower is an economic development selling point," he said. "It helps form a community's identity -- it makes us a major player. Now, we're back to being one of 4,000 little airports. It's a shame, because so many people have worked so hard to promote this airport and this area."
Both Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and Wheeling Ohio County Airport host National Guard air installations, which could see their training operations scaled back or moved elsewhere because of the tower closings, according to their directors.
Military planners took the presence of control towers into account in locating their operations at the two airports decades ago. "Now they're going to have to limit their training opportunities, or maybe have to fly someplace other than the place they invested in," said Tom Tominack, director of the Wheeling airport.
Tominack said the loss of a control tower, which has operated at his airport since 1949, "leaves me concerned about the safety factor. We have two intersecting runways, corporate aircraft, a National Guard base with an active Blackhawk helicopter unit, and an Army Reserve center that have relied on air traffic control for training purposes.
"The FAA built the safest aviation system in the world," Tominack said. "To close nearly 40 percent of that system's towers, as was called for initially, is a complete 180-degree turn. It's uncharacteristic of them. We're genuinely concerned for the safety factor being greatly jeopardized."
Despite the closure of the tower, "we will keep the airport open and we will continue to supply aviation services," Tominack said.
At Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg, an emergency meeting of the airport's governing board is scheduled for Wednesday to look at options for coping with the planned tower closure.
"We're still trying to digest what's happened here," said airport director Jerry O'Sullivan. "But the closure will clearly have a negative impact on safety."
While state, city or local governments have the option of paying for controller service on their own, that doesn't appear to be a viable alternative for the Lewisburg airport, "since it would cost about $600,000 a year to run the tower ourselves," O'Sullivan said.
The airports serving Parkersburg, Wheeling and Lewisburg make use of contract controllers, rather than controllers employed directly by the FAA. Among West Virginia control towers still in sequestration limbo regarding possible tower closures are the FAA-staffed towers at Huntington's Tri-State Airport and Bridgeport's North Central West Virginia Regional Airport. Charleston's Yeager Airport faces a possible loss of its midnight-5 a.m. controller shift.Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.