By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The scheduled closure of Stillwater Regional’s Airport control tower will have little effect on Oklahoma State University related flights but would halt military training.
The airport tower’s will lose its funding in late April as part of the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration. City and airport officials have not given up trying to keep the tower open and are considering other funding sources.
Many of the military training flights at the Stillwater airport originate at Vance Air Force Base in Enid. Some come from bases throughout the country.
Without a tower, Airport Manager Gary Johnson said, these flights would cease as military policy that requires military planes to use airport’s with towers. This would hurt the airport financially as military aircraft account for 30 percent of jet fuel sales.
The university uses the airport for its flight program and university related travel, including athletic teams.
Associate Director of Communications Carrie Hulsey-Greene said the tower’s closure would have little impact on the OSU flight program. She said the program has operated without a tower in the past and will make minor changes to adjust.
Hulsey-Greene said team or official university related flights would only continue if airport officials didn’t restrict the type of planes that could use the airport.
Airport officials don’t intend to restrict flights, Johnson said.
In the coming weeks, city and airport officials will discuss alternative ways to fund the tower. Johnson said federal funding will likely be cut near the end of April.
Priorities will be a major factor determining the fate of Stillwater’s airport control tower, Mayor John Bartley said.
Bartley said the airport is important for Oklahoma State University, Stillwater businesses and the area’s economy.
“Determining the priority of the tower is the key to this question,” he said.
Under the tower’s federal contract, it would cost approximately $495,000 to keep it open for a year.
Stillwater’s tower is one of 149 towers around the country that were cut from the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget. The FAA was required to trim $637 million from its budget as part of the sequestration that went into effect March 1.
Johnson and air traffic controllers said eliminating the tower will make the skies over Stillwater less safe. Pilots will have to coordinate landings and takeoffs among themselves without guidance from the ground.