NORMAN — The planned closure of airport control towers at smaller airports around the country has alarmed pilots and passengers. OU’s Max Westheimer Airport was among those scheduled to go dark this month.
However, OU officials have stepped up and provided gap funding for the tower. The move should be applauded as the university’s aviation program is the airport’s biggest single customer.
Student pilots take up many of the thousands of monthly takeoffs and landings. The Westheimer tower is a contract operation. Historically, those towers operate much cheaper than one staffed by federal employees.
The closing of the 149 towers in 38 states has been debated in Congress. It’s part of the $85 billion that a 2011 law requires to be cut from federal spending. USA Today reports some of the affected communities are filing lawsuits to keep their towers open.
Eliminating the 149 towers is expected to save the FAA about $33 million of the $637 million the agency needs to cut by Sept. 30. The newspaper says 90 percent of the nation’s 4,880 public airports do not have control towers.
OU’s decision to keep its tower open is only a short-term measure.
The FAA needs to monitor the safety and re-fund those towers with relatively high traffic counts. Westheimer would likely be in that mix. It’s arguably the third-busiest general aviation airport in the state.