Officials at Smith Reynolds Airport vow to continue looking for ways to keep the airport’s tower open, despite the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close it.

The FAA released its final list Friday of contract towers that will close throughout the country. The agency said it will shut down 149 contract towers over a four-week period beginning on April 7.

On March 13, officials at Smith Reynolds made an appeal to the FAA’s decision to close the airport’s tower because of budget cuts from the federal sequester. Potentially dangerous traffic with two runways, military and emergency relief, millions in infrastructure investments and designation as a national asset were among the reasons cited by officials.

“The Airport Commission is very disappointed in the FAA’s decision to keep Smith Reynolds on the tower closure list,” Thomas McKim, chairman of the Airport Commission of Forsyth County, said Friday. “In the appeal filed last week, we believe it was clearly demonstrated that keeping the contract tower at Smith Reynolds open is in the national interest — the target standard established by the FAA.”

Smith Reynolds is one of five airports in North Carolina that have towers on the FAA’s closure list. The other towers are at Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern, Hickory Regional Airport in Hickory, Kinston Regional Jetport at Stallings Field in Kinston, and Concord Regional Airport in Concord.

McKim said the airport commission will pursue every reasonable avenue to keep the tower in operation, including exploring legislative options nationally and identifying alternative funds to maintain the tower.

“At the same time, the airport commission will prepare to operate the airport without a control tower, until such time as we are able to get funding restored,” McKim said. “We will do everything necessary to make sure that Smith Reynolds remains an active driver of economic activity in our region, and we will work with the flying public and our tenants to keep Smith Reynolds a safe place to fly.”

Mayor Allen Joines said he was also disappointed with the FAA’s decision.

“At Smith Reynolds Airport, as we’re growing the maintenance business there with NS (North State) Aviation and Piedmont Propulsion (Systems), we need the ability to get aircraft in there on a regular basis,” he said.

The FAA said 24 federal contract towers previously proposed for closure will remain open. An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers.

“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 U.S. Contract Tower Association, an affiliate of the American Association of Airport Executives, said the FAA’s decision to close 149 contract towers raises “serious safety, efficiency and economic concerns that the agency has failed to consider.”

“Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA’s system of managing the nation’s complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety — both at the local level and throughout the aviation system,” said J. Spencer Dickerson, the executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association.


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