The Federal Aviation Administration is closing nearly 150 air traffic control towers nationwide beginning April 7 because of sequestration, and three of the towers are in South Carolina.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, in a news release. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
In South Carolina, the FAA is closing the towers at the Hilton Head Island Airport, Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach and the Donaldson Airport in Greenville.
The four-week closure phase begins April 7, but the FAA has said some communities will participate in the agency’s nonfederal tower program and take over the cost of on-site air traffic control services at their airports.
“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The planned May 5 closure of the Donaldson tower should not ground flights but does create safety concerns for pilots, said Jody Bryson, president and CEO of the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center. It could also hinder business recruitment efforts for SCTAC, he said.
In addition to general aviation use for pilots flying small single-engine and twin-engine aircraft, the Donaldson Center airport serves large military aircraft like the P-3 Orion that Lockheed Martin repairs and modifies at its facility at SCTAC.
Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Leslie Farmer called the tower closure an inconvenience but said flight operations can continue with support from air traffic controllers at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
“However, we are concerned that an extended closure could have significant impact on attracting future business to our Greenville facilities,” Farmer said in an emailed statement.
The airport handles 30,000 takeoffs and landings a year. In September, the S.C. National Guard will add 5,000 more as it opens an aviation support facility at SCTAC that will base 10 helicopters, Bryson said.
“The businesses that are located there will continue to operate, but again, there are extreme, serious concerns about safety,” he said.