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Some Northwest cities explore ways to keep airport control towers open

Beth Redfield
Northwest News Network

Some Northwest cities and counties are exploring whether to use local or private money to keep their airport control towers open. By mid-June, the federal government plans to close the control towers at 13 small to medium sized airports across the region.

Across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester have led the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel a contract for control tower staffing at smaller western airfields. Some of the affected airports -- such as one near Sun Valley, Idaho, and another in Renton, Washington -- are threatening to sue to stop the move. Other communities are scrounging for local dollars to keep their control towers open at least part-time.

Pierce County, Washington airport and ferry manager Deb Wallace is researching how much it would cost to hire controllers for busy summer weekends at Tacoma Narrows Airport.

"We will be exploring the opportunity to actually receive sponsorship," Wallace says. "I think there may be a business opportunity for sponsorship by different companies to provide this service."

In Idaho Falls, the manager of the city-operated airport has offered to shift money from the maintenance budget -- at least for the short term -- to keep the control tower open.

Northwest air traffic control towers that are at risk of closure by the FAA: 

  • Lewiston, Idaho
  • Hailey/Sun Valley, Idaho
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Yakima, Wash.
  • Walla Walla, Wash. - local cost share keeps tower open at least through Sept.
  • Renton Municipal, Wash.
  • Olympia Regional, Wash.
  • Tacoma Narrows, Wash.
  • Spokane/Felts Field, Wash.
  • North Bend/Coos Bay, Ore.
  • Pendleton, Ore.
  • Salem, Ore.
  • Troutdale-Portland

Regional airport control towers on the original FAA target list that have since been removed *:

  • Klamath Falls, Ore. - large Air National Guard presence at this airfield
  • Twin Falls, Idaho - FAA-operated tower
  • Grant County/Moses Lake, Wash. - FAA-operated tower
  • Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field), Wash. - FAA-operated tower

* - The FAA contract with its controllers union requires 1-year advance notice to close a government operated facility.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

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