Small air traffic control towers at risk for closure under sequestration

Years of progress at the Frederick Municipal Airport are at risk under the sequestration showdown.

Built with economic recovery money, the control tower at the airport opened less than a year ago. The six controllers assigned to the six-story facility guide aircraft around, as well as in and out, of the airport.

Pilots say they are a comfort.

Dirk Van Wie, who is one of those pilots, said, "We have different types of traffic. We have a flight school that's very active. We have low flying aircraft 172 Cessnas, we also have corporate jets coming our way and, uh, the tower helps keep those separated."

Now the Secretary of Transportation is warning that if the automatic cuts happen the brand new tower will be closed, along with control towers in Hagerstown, Easton, Manassas and several other small airfields.

"I'm mad, mad, because it just opened six months ago, and we fly here all the time," Pilot Pat Fossuo said.

And safety is not the only concern. The City of Frederick, which owns the airport, wanted the tower in large part to lure lucrative business jets to base there. Now those expansion plans could be in limbo.

Frederick Economic Development Director Richard Griffin said, "Those corporate jets and those pilots that are ferrying executives around the country, they want to come into a towered facility."

Wie added, "I think they're taking the high profile items right now just to get more attention to the issue. But somebody has to make a decision, a hard decision."

The pilots say if they lose the tower, they'll go back to the old way and look after their own safety.