KALISPELL – Glacier Park International’s lone air traffic control tower will remain open until at least June 15 following the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to delay the closure of 149 air traffic control facilities at small airports nationwide.
Last month, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these towers as part of the agency’s required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration.
The tower at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell was among the facilities scheduled to close, but the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority, along with numerous trade groups representing companies that operate the towers, sued the FAA to keep it open. It was scheduled to close next month.
According to a statement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the additional time will allow the agency to attempt to resolve the legal challenges.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” LaHood said. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
Approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may join the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves.
Glacier Park International operated without a control tower for 60 years, until 2001, but in a letter to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, GPI director Cindi Martin raised concerns about safety and efficiency if the closure occurs.
“Closure of the tower at GPI would adversely impact the national interest and would unacceptably compromise safety at GPI,” Martin wrote.
In the letter, Martin laid out the challenges she anticipates the airport would face in the event of a tower closure and the dangers of negotiating the mountainous terrain surrounding the facility without controllers sequencing planes and guiding them on takeoff and landing.
“Without a tower to provide communication to pilots during these operations, chances of a mid-air collision increase dramatically,” Martin wrote. “We request that FAA recognize the unique and serious safety consequences of closing the federal contract tower at GPI, and remove it from the list of closures.”