The Chippewa Valley Regional Airport is among eight in Wisconsin that could lose its air traffic control towers if the so-called sequestration in Washington takes effect.
But even if the Federal Aviation Administration follows through on its threat to close more than 100 towers at smaller airports across the nation, it wouldn’t affect the 75 flights that take off or land most days in Chippewa County.
Airport Manager Charity Speich said airline service would not be disrupted in the event of a control tower closure. Instead, operations would revert to the situation that existed prior to the tower opening in November 2006.
In that case, it would become what’s known in the industry as an “uncontrolled airport,” where planes would be guided by air traffic controllers in Minneapolis until they were close, at which point pilots would communicate directly with one another.
“What I don’t understand is the control tower program has been held up as one of the most efficient and cost-effective programs of the FAA. So I can’t say I see the logic of such a decision,” Speich said.
The FAA announced Friday that in the event Congress does not head off sequestration cuts by this Friday’s deadline, the agency is prepared to furlough all of its nearly 47,000 employees one day per pay period, eliminate overnight shifts at more than 60 air traffic control towers, and close more than 100 towers at smaller airports.
Those 100 would be chosen from a list of around twice that many across the U.S. The other seven in Wisconsin include La Crosse, Mosinee, Kenosha, Janesville, Oshkosh and Waukesha, and Timmerman Field in Milwaukee.
The criteria for making the FAA’s possible tower closure list was airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations annually. Speich said only one Wisconsin airport exceeds those numbers — Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport. A handful of other airports in the state don’t meet those requirements, but still didn’t wind up on the FAA’s list of airports eligible for the cuts.
Closing the Chippewa Valley airport’s traffic control tower would affect the jobs of five air traffic controllers. None currently work overnight; their hours of operation are 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The tower is operated by Midwest Air Traffic Control under a contract with the FAA.
The Chippewa Valley Regional Airport has undergone several changes over the past few years, including two phases of airline terminal improvements. In March 2010 it also switched its daily jet service to United Express, which flies to Chicago’s O'Hare Airport. Prior to that, daily jet service was to the Twin Cities.
It is served by four commercial flights daily and last year saw a total of 26,708 takeoffs and landings.
Of the state’s 12 controlled airports, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport ranked 10th, with La Crosse and Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee both having fewer take offs and landings, according to FAA data.