Manassas airport officials are starting to prepare a coordination effort with federal authorities and its customers to ensure the airport is ready if its air traffic control tower is closed due to looming federal budget cuts, airport officials said Monday.
However, airport officials said there is little they can do until they know for sure that the Manassas Regional Airport’s control tower would be closed due to looming federal cuts known as “sequestration,” said Juan Rivera, the airport’s executive director.
The airport’s control tower is on a Federal Aviation Administration list of regional airports’ control towers that could be closed if the cuts begin to take effect on Friday. Federal officials say that the closure of control towers would not occur until at least April.
If the Manassas tower was closed, the airport would remain open, airport Executive Director Juan Rivera told the Manassas City Council Monday. But he said that he worries about the potentially perilous situation aircraft could find themselves in, as pilots would need to coordinate with towers farther away and amongst themselves to coordinate take-off and landings, Rivera said.
“I think safety would be greatly impacted,” he said of the tower’s potential closure. Manassas has two parallel runways that can be used simultaneously, he said.
“If you had one runway then it’s a little easier to manage” without a tower, he said.
The airport is the largest general aviation airport in the state, which serves several flight schools, federal law enforcement agencies and corporations, Rivera said.
With the vast majority of the Federal Aviation Administration’s nearly 47,000 employees likely to be furloughed one day per two-week pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September, officials would be forced to pare back operations.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a White House briefing last week that more than 100 air traffic control towers could be closed, including two in Virginia — Manassas and Lynchburg regional airports — and five in Maryland, including Frederick Municipal Airport.
Rivera said that federal law enforcement operators who use the airport would likely raise concerns. Corporations that use the airport – including Chick-fil-A, General Dynamics and Lowe’s -- could choose to temporarily relocate elsewhere, hurting the airport’s bottom line. He said, however, his main concern was safety.
Pilots going through a lengthy checklist of additional procedures without a tower to coordinate would inevitably slow the process of taking off and landing in Manassas, said Dan Radtke, a pilot and the chairman of the Airport Commission, which oversees airport operations. He said that such delays could cause the airport’s users to move temporarily to Dulles.