NORMAN — The planned April 7 closure of OU’s Max Westheimer Airport air traffic control tower has local and state general aviation officials concerned about flying safety.
The local tower, a contracted operation, is one of five air traffic control towers in Oklahoma to close next month, with another set to close in September. The closure is part of a cost-cutting move on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration ordered by the federal sequestration that began March 1.
“What we’re getting right now is that the FAA will cease to fund the operation on April 7,” said Walt Strong, Westheimer manager. “They’re to going to shut it down and it’s going to be lights out for us.”
Westheimer, home base to many business airplanes and the state’s own air fleet, has about 56,000 take-offs and landings a year. Westheimer is also an emergency reliever for Will Rogers World airport. It is believed to be the third busiest general aviation airport in the state.
Norman pilot Randy Richison said the local aviation community will survive, but he wishes the federal government would prioritize better instead of cutting costs that affect safety.
“I tend to be a fiscal conservative but I believe if the government was efficient, then a two percent cut would be easier to swallow. I would think they would find less esential things to cut,” Richison said.
“We can live with it but in terms of safety, in cities this size with a large flight school, it doesn’t make sense. What ever happened to the word ‘priority?’ Let’s get rid of the non-productive, inefficient things first,” Richison said.
Football game day traffic is intense and Strong, the airport director, said no exceptions have been proposed for those fall Saturdays.
“We’re all expressing some concern,” he said. “When the FAA tells us you are the No. 1 priority of aviation safety, and they promote that and then this happens it’s pretty troubling.”