Because of federal budget cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration is closing 149 control towers at airports around the country.
One of those towers is in Olive Branch, Miss., one of the busiest airports in the State of Mississippi. Flights have increased by 25 percent at Olive Branch Metro in the last three years.
Starting May 5, pilots flying in and out of OB Metro Airport will have to go it alone without air traffic controllers in the control tower.
"Well I think it's a game of politics and sometimes in the game of politics you get hurt," said Mayor Sam Rikard, who said the move by the FAA is not smart. "Closing the towers across the country, 148-149 in my opinion is a reckless decision made by the FAA."
The tower closing comes at a time when Olive Branch is on track to be the busiest airport in the state. More than 30 Mid-South corporations fly in and out of the north Mississippi strip. Some may have to go elsewhere because of the tower closing. Without the tower, some jets may not be able to fly in and out of OB Metro any longer for insurance reasons.
As for how that affects things economically, that has yet to be seen.
"Well if they could not fly into Olive Branch, they would have to land at Memphis International, which is less convenient, but it's 30 or 20 minutes from here," Mayor Rikard said. "It's just more convenient for a busy executive to fly right into the airport, and they can be at that site they are looking at or at that industry they represent."
There are two flight schools at Olive Branch Metro. Chief Flight Instructor Grant Bales doesn't like the idea of not having air traffic controllers.
"The danger in here, the traffic is tremendous," Bales said. "They indicate since January we have had 18,000 traffic movements. That's a lot of airplanes, and without coordination of the traffic flow in to the path of the runway, control of the aircraft on the ground and it becomes a major hazard."
Flight school students who attend OB Metro will also be affected
"Keep in mind they are brand new, and they are focused on many things," Bale said. "Just trying to control the aircraft on the ground for example, and you have somebody in the tower telling them to turn right not left, to hold short, it could impact them and become a major safety problem."
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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