Right now, small aircraft buzzing in and around Felts Field have an extra set of eyes on them as planes attempt to land and take off from the small airport on the west side of Spokane Valley.
However, as of April 7, pilots will be on their own.
That’s because Felts Field is one of 149 airports affected by the federal Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration decision to cut air-traffic control services as part of the national “sequestration” process.
The list is actually shorter than had been initially proposed, however 24 federal contract towers were deemed important enough to remain open so they would not have negative impact on national interests, according to the FAA.
Unfortunately, Felts Field didn’t make the cut and the tower will be closed.
The FAA hopes to save $637 million this year through the cuts.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers, and these were very tough decisions,” Ray LaHood, transportation secretary, said in a statement released last Friday. “Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
The decision doesn’t mean that Felts Field will have to close. It does require, however, pilots taking off and landing at the airport to communicate with one another – rather than rely on an air-traffic controller -- to determine their positions to avoid collisions.
“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
In early March, the FAA proposed to close 189 contract air-traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the requirements of budget sequestration. The administration announced it would consider keeping open certain towers if doing so would be in the national interest. These considerations included:
- Significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA n consultation with the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security.
- Significant adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local economy.
- Significant impact on multi-scale transportation, communication or banking/financial networks.
- The extent of which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.
Other towers also closing in Washington are the Tacoma Narrows, Renton Municipal, Olympia Regional and Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field.