Looming control tower closure sparks concern

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The closure of Front Range Airport’s control tower is generating concern from airport officials and federal legislators, who say the impending cuts in the coming weeks will impact Denver International Airport and the viability of Spaceport Colorado.

The cuts, which will eliminate five full-time airport controller positions and shutter the eight-year-old control tower, is a part of the $85.4 billion in sequestered cuts targeted for 2013. The cuts began on March 1 after Congress failed to pass a deficit-reduction plan.

Front Range Airport is one of the 173 small- to medium-sized airports across the country targeted for airport controller reductions and control tower closures beginning on April 7.

Front Range Airport Executive Director Dennis Heap said the closure will limit the types of aircraft permitted to land at the airport and eliminate positive control measures used to monitor air traffic near Denver International Airport six miles away.

In all, Heap said it costs about $50,000 to operate the airport control tower each month, including insurance and maintenance.

The 27-year-old airport operated without a control tower until one was built in 2005 for $5.7 million, but Heap said the need for one is greater than before because modern jets are faster and require more positive control.

Without an airport control tower in place, Heap said airport officials will have to send out more advisory reports to pilots who take off or land at the airport, including wind direction, wind speed and weather conditions.

“An airport is a long-term investment — you don’t build an airport to expect a return in a couple of years, because it takes a lot of time to build that infrastructure,” Heap said. “To me, as an American citizen and taxpayer, why would we shut down a perfectly good infrastructure when we have much national debate about infrastructure that’s crumbling and falling apart and how we need more? I understand that we have to cut costs and we should cut costs, but why cut an important piece of infrastructure?”

Front Range Airport Authority member Barry Gore said the cuts may also impact the viability of future spaceport operations at the airport, because of its close proximity to DIA.

“I don’t think that we could launch and land space planes without a staffed tower at Front Range Airport,” Gore said. “Because of the impacts to DIA, we would need to be able to coordinate between the two airports.”

In a letter addressed to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta, Congressmen Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, and Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, said the projected cuts are “inappropriate and harmful.”

“Control of all aircraft movement in and around DIA is obviously very important,” the letter read in part. “Without the tower at FTG, an increase to the workload of regional and other controllers to ensure separation, and thus a reduction in safety, can be expected.”

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