Airport tower on list to close

The air traffic control tower at Jefferson City Memorial Airport may be closed in about a month, unless efforts to keep it operating are successful.

The airport is one of 173 small- and medium-sized airports included on a list of towers to be closed April 7 because of forced spending cuts by the federal government. Also included on this list of tower closures is Columbia Regional Airport.

Britt Smith, Jefferson City operations division director, said the city’s airport is part of a contract tower program where the Federal Aviation Administration contracts with another company to provide tower services to the airport. The costs of running the tower are split between the federal government and the city, with the federal government covering 82 percent currently.

Smith said the amount is determined by how busy the airport is and noted the Memorial Airport is the sixth busiest in the state.

Shutting down the tower wouldn’t stop operations, though it would sacrifice safety, he said. Many airports operate without a tower, but there are some businesses with private planes and jets that have insurance stipulations that require flights to go in and out of airports with air traffic control towers, Smith said.

Without the tower, Smith said, air traffic control would rely on pilot-to-pilot communication, where a pilot looking to land on a specific runway would make an announcement and hear from any other pilots in the area if they were planning on taking off nearby.

“It would certainly not be ideal,” Smith said. “Certainly, having a tower provides us with the safest control for the traffic at the airport.”

At this point, Smith said, the federal government will consider keeping a tower open if “it’s in the national interest,” which he believes it would be as the Memorial Airport serves the state’s capital.

The City Council passed a resolution Monday confirming the city’s support for the airport and requesting the airport’s tower be removed from the list of towers to be closed. It also authorized Mayor Eric Struemph to communicate the resolution to the city’s congressional delegation.

Struemph said his plan is to make that communication personally and as soon as possible.

“We have a good relationship,” Struemph said.

Struemph cited the airport’s 16.9 percent increase in traffic last year as an example of its importance to the city.

“I’ve heard in the past that the economic development of that airport is in the $15 (million) to $20 million range,” Struemph said. “That’s huge for a city our size.”

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