Federal budget cuts that went into effect last week could result in closure of the Felts Field air traffic control tower and elimination of the tower night shift at Spokane International Airport.
Larry Krauter, CEO and airport director, said the cuts could come as early as April 7 unless Congress comes up with a way to restore funding.
The Federal Aviation Administration has notified airports that the agency will discontinue air traffic control services at 189 smaller airports across the country, including Felts Field and Walla Walla Airport.
Towers at those airports are operated by private firms under contract with the FAA.
In addition, nighttime tower operations would be eliminated in Spokane and Pasco in Eastern Washington.
At Spokane International Airport, the cuts would mean the loss of air traffic control operations from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
While the cuts would not prevent aircraft from landing and taking off, they would hamper smooth airport operations and potentially increase the risk to public safety, Krauter said.
For example, air traffic could stop completely during nighttime and early-morning hours when fog reduces visibility, he said. Aircraft need tower controllers to guide them during those episodes.
Fairchild Air Force Base has been using the Spokane airport to land planes during episodes of low visibility because SIA has an advanced landing system. That option for Fairchild aircraft would be lost at night, Krauter said.
Allegiant Air has notified the airport that cuts in air traffic control services could result in a 20 percent reduction in that airline’s flights. Allegiant recently started direct weekly flights from Spokane to Honolulu.
Northwest MedStar uses Felts Field for its operations, along with three flight training schools. Felts Field, with about 52,000 landings and takeoffs annually, is also a base for corporate flights, general aviation and air freight.
When air traffic is busy during the day, the air traffic control operators at Felts provide additional eyes on the sky for overall safety of air traffic in the region, Krauter said.
“The airspace can get pretty busy,” he said.
Krauter said he has been in contact with the state’s congressional delegation about the risks of losing air traffic control service.
He said he hopes Congress will restore FAA funding when it considers a continuation of the federal budget later this month.
The proposed cuts stem from a budget deal adopted by Congress in 2011 that was intended to force a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on budget cuts and taxes. The cuts are known as a sequestration of money and are being made across all government agencies.