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PROVO — The Federal Aviation Administration has said it will close air traffic control towers at 173 smaller airports across the country, including the airports in Provo and Ogden, raising serious safety questions two important Utah airports.
Sequestration resulting from the unresolved budget dispute between Republicans and Democrats has forced the FAA to reduce its budget by 4 percent, or about $600 million, leading to the closures.
City leaders have said the potential consequences are a concern for Provo's small but expanding municipal airport, and that even with the cuts, they want to have a fully functioning and safe airport. Looming budget cuts could affect its four contract air traffic controllers.
Funding cuts would not affect commercial flights, according to Provo officials. They said their options to make up for those cuts include ground communication and using resources out of Salt Lake.
If you have 10 or 15 planes in the general vicinity, now you're starting to talk about real safety issues.
–Ben Tidswell, Chopper 5 pilot
But, Provo Municipal Airport is also a campus for the Utah Valley University Flight School. Allegiant Air also offers commercial flights to and from Arizona twice a week.
"Provo is a growing airport," Norman said. "We have UVU that's out there. We have an ability to fly larger airplanes in and out of there also."
KSL's Chopper 5 flies in that air space often for news coverage and even to stop for gas. KSL pilot Ben Tidswell said the amount of traffic in that air space warrants the need for controllers.
Pilots follow basic rules to avoid other aircraft, Tidswell said.They can also communicate with each other over the same traffic advisory frequency. But with heavier air traffic, it's safer to have a controller looking at a radar screen.
"If you have 10 or 15 planes in the general vicinity, now you're starting to talk about real safety issues," he said.
City officials said they won't know the exact effects of the sequestration until April. For now, they're looking at creative options to maintain safety and operations, but they'd like to see Congress reach a compromise.
"I'm really hoping that cooler heads will prevail and somebody blinks with sequestration."