Decision to close airport control tower raises questions of safety

Missouri congresswoman and Columbia mayor debate the issue

POSTED: 06:20 PM CDT Mar 26, 2013    UPDATED: 03:09 PM CDT Mar 27, 2013 
COLUMBIA, Mo. -

It was announced Friday the Columbia Regional Airport control tower would close due to budget cuts.

The decision to close the tower has raised many questions about public safety.

“Someone needs to be out there making sure there's no deer running across the runway,” Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid tells ABC 17 News.

Air Traffic Manager LeRoy Welch says closing the tower would eliminate a set of eyes that watch and communicate problems to pilots.

“We have prevented several accidents from developing because of an alert air traffic controller looking out the window like they're supposed to do,” Welch explains.

He says that during busy times at the airport, it’s important for pilots to know which runways are clear for landing.

Welch also says that pilots have to complete their checklist before landing and that many new pilots depend on them for directions to land and take off safely.  

“We don't get a lot of aircraft, but there are times we do,” Welch tells ABC 17 News.

Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler says she will pursue whatever measure she can to make sure there is funding to keep the control towers open.

“We will be proactive in rearranging their budget for them if they're not willing to do it right now,” Rep. Hartzler says.

Hartzler says she has written a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration administrator and is waiting for a response.

She also says she will take her concerns back to Washington,D.C. and work with colleagues to resolve the issue.

“When I get back to D.C., I'll have the opportunity to visit with individual members and see how we need to proceed to help this situation,” Hartzler says.

She thinks there are other ways to cut the budget while still having funding to keep the control towers open.

The air traffic manager at the airport says just because Columbia Regional Airport is small, doesn’t mean there is not a risk to pilots.