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March 13, 2013

FAA should keep Norman tower open

NORMAN — The first rule of government budgeting seems to be to reduce or eliminate spending on projects that have immediate impact. The federal budget cuts that took effect March 1 are beginning to show up in Oklahoma.

The FAA announced this past week that the control towers at six Oklahoma general aviation airports will cease to be funded on April 7. The cut includes the contract tower at OU’s Max Westheimer field, the third busiest general aviation airport in the state and home to a busy pilot training school.

Westheimer — along with airports in Stillwater, Enid, Lawton, Ardmore and Tulsa Riverside — are contract operations, meaning they do not involve federal employees. Studies show the average annual cost to operate a contract tower like Westheimer is $537,000 compared to $2 million for an FAA-operated tower.

Norman’s airport has about 56,000 take-offs and landings a year and serves as an emergency reliever airport for Will Rogers World Airport. On a busy game day, dozens of private planes arrive and leave.

We think the FAA should rethink the tower closures and members of the state’s Congressional delegation should weigh in here, as should chamber of commerce members who arrived Tuesday in Washington.

Westheimer has had a tower presence for decades. As airport traffic grew, so did the need for communications between the ground and pilots. This is not the time to eliminate this vital safety tool.

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