Stillwater News Press

Local News

March 30, 2013

Stillwater could join lawsuit to save control tower

STILLWATER, Okla. — Stillwater city councilors will consider a way to save the control tower at Stillwater Regional Airport.

This one is a lawsuit.

City Attorney John Dorman is asking the City Council for an executive session to discuss joining a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration and its administrator, Michael P. Huerta.

The executive session is scheduled during Monday’s City Council meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Stillwater Municipal Building, 723 S. Lewis. Councilors could return into regular session to discuss the issue and possibly vote on joining the class-action suit.

Huerta and the FAA ordered nearly 150 airport control towers closed nationwide as part the spending cuts required under sequestration.

The Stillwater airport is the fifth busiest in Oklahoma. It appealed the FFA’s decision, but lost. The tower is expected to close sometime in April. It will save the federal government nearly $500,000.

Several airports across the U.S. have filed lawsuits to stop the tower closings. Airports in Illinois, Washington and Florida filed independent suits.

Last week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals combined all the lawsuits into one — Spokane Airport Board v. Michael P. Huerta, Administrator, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The tower closings doesn’t mean airports must close. All pilots are required to know how to land at uncontrolled airports and to practice the procedures.

Stillwater Regional Airport Manager Gary Johnson has said closing the towers eliminates an extra layer of safety during critical stages of flight — takeoff and landing. It will make flying more hazardous and reverse years of progress that has made the U.S. aviation network the safest in the world.

The airport, Johnson said, doesn’t anticipate restricting flights if the tower closes. Oklahoma State University athletic teams could fly in and out of the airport on road trips.

Military planes will be forbidden to stop at the Stillwater airport if the tower closes. The armed forces require military planes to take off and land at tower-controlled airports. Military planes comprise 30 percent of the Stillwater airport’s jet fuel sales.

Stillwater is scrambling to keep the tower open.

The city created a $500,000 contingency fund in its latest budget. Approximately $100,000 of the fund has been used, City Manager Dan Galloway said at the March 18 meeting when approximately $50,000 was removed from the fund to equip a fitness center for city workers and their spouses.

Stillwater Mayor John Bartley has said the City Council will need to discuss city priorities before deciding its next move regarding tower closures.

UPDATED: April 1, 2013

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