Fullerton air control tower to close

Photo by Mimi Hung

Photo by Mimi Hung

Due to the federal budget cuts of the national sequester, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday the closure of Fullerton Municipal Airport tower, along with 148 other air traffic towers.

Though the airport itself will remain active through April 7, the closure of the air tower will force pilots using the Fullerton Municipal Airport to take off and land without the aid of air traffic controllers.

According to a statement from the FAA, the tower closures are part of an overall plan to cut $637 million from its annual budget. While the original projection was to close 189 airport towers throughout the nation, the FAA press release stated that 24 towers were kept open due to the possible “negative impact on national interest.”

California will be facing 11 air tower closures in 11 different cities, ranging from Sacramento to San Diego.

Meanwhile, 16 other federal contract towers are exempt from the closures due to a “cost share” program, which is funded through a congressional statute that sets aside funds each fiscal year.

Serco Inc., the corporation which contracts air traffic controllers for work at the Fullerton air tower, was unavailable for comment concerning the loss of contracted jobs at the airport.

Dennis Quinlivan, Fullerton’s deputy director of public works and current interim overseer of the Fullerton airport, said that flying without the support of air traffic controllers is not uncommon in certain areas.

“You got to keep in mind that the tower is unmanned from about nine at night to about six in the morning, and it’s a different type of flying, but it’s very common,” said Quinlivan. “There’s a lot of airports that do not have tower control.”

While Quinlivan stated that he does not have a background in aviation, he is aware of the safety aspects of having air traffic controllers overseeing flight paths, and that other airfields also manage without air towers monitoring flight paths.

“I do not want to overemphasize the safety background,” Quinlivan said. “I’m sure that it will be a safer scenario to have (air traffic controllers) there, but it’s not very uncommon to not have tower personnel there.”

Jim Gandee, president of the Fullerton Airport Pilots Association, said the problem with the loss of air traffic controllers for the Fullerton airport ties into the major air traffic that Southern California sees on a daily basis.

Gandee dismissed the ease of flying without tower support due to the complex nature of flight patterns that pilots must endure in the Orange County/Los Angeles area.

Due to the amount of commercial and private flights coming into Los Angeles, Gandee said that flight paths of commercial jets in the area are narrow and dangerous.

“So as a result of the various airspace structures in and around the Fullerton airport, we have very small narrow flightway corridors for general aviation aircraft,” said Gandee. “Without the tower ability to separate the aircraft, the skies are crowded, and, I believe, will become a more dangerous atmosphere with the increased potential of a mid-air collision in and around the Fullerton area.”

Gandee mentioned that the Fullerton pilot association attempted to contact many government officials in order to stop the closure of the Fullerton air tower.

When the closure was announced for the Fullerton air tower last month, Gandee and the FPA sent letters protesting the tower closure to Sen. Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton).

“I also forwarded a letter to the FAA and the only response that we have received was from the FAA and that was purely a simple acknowledgement of our letter,” Gandee said. “From all of our elected officials I received virtually no response.”

Even with the loss of the air tower, Quinlivan was optimistic of the continued efforts of the Fullerton Municipal Airport.

“The operations of the airport will continue; my staff and the staff that is on-site right now are not leaving,” said Quinlivan. “All the operations will continue as they were before. It’s going to be a change for the folks here because it’s been like this for so long, but I think we’re going to be OK.”

About Raymond Mendoza