JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Seven air traffic control towers in Mississippi are among 173 scheduled to be closed nationwide in early April, as the Federal Aviation Administration shuts off funding for those services.
The shutdowns are the result of the FAA's move to reduce spending by $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The FAA cuts affect mostly small- and medium-sized airports.
The FAA said it will consider keeping some towers open on a case-by-case basis if local authorities can prove its tower closure would "adversely affect the national interest."
Mississippi airports on the list are Tupelo Regional, Stennis International in Bay St. Louis, Golden Triangle in Columbus, Mid-Delta in Greenville, Hawkins Field at Jackson, Key Field in Meridian and Olive Branch Regional.
Jackson-Evers International Airport and Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport were not on the list.
Golden Triangle Regional Airport officials said they plan to use as much as $30,000 a month in airport revenues to keep its air traffic control tower open if the federal government follows through with plans to close it.
Golden Triangle officials said Columbus Air Force Base is using the airport more for housing planes and training flights while work is done on its main runway.
Golden Triangle also plans to appeal the FAA decision based on the air base's training mission being in the "nation's interest."
The closure in Tupelo means CAFB training aircraft will be unable to stop in Tupelo for fuel because regulations prevent them from flying into airfields without control towers.
Josh Abramson, executive director of Tupelo Regional, said the airport would remain open, but pilots will have to communicate with each other instead of relying on the airport tower to direct traffic.
"It's a safety issue in that having a tower is like having a friend in the sky looking at everything," he said.
Operations will move more slowly during poor weather without tower guidance, he said.
Tupelo did not have a tower until 2001.
Abramson said flights will continue at Tupelo Regional. Silver Airways, which provides commercial air service to Atlanta, will be unaffected.
Operations for aircraft dismantling and recycling company Universal Asset Management, which lands retired jets as large as a 747, also will be unaffected, he said.
Five people work at the tower. There is a possibility the tower could remain open, if the city were to decide to put the employees on its payroll.
Abramson said the FAA contractor pays its contractor in Tupelo about $42,000 a month — which covers salaries, insurance and overhead — for its five-person staff. Taking over the contract would cost $504,000 a year.
Abramson said the airport itself doesn't have the money in its budget to absorb such an expense.
He said another option would be having a reduced schedule with one fewer tower employee, which would cost about $300,000 a year.