Centennial Airport on FAA hit list

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Pilots with late-night flights into Centennial Airport may find it a bit lonesome after April 7.

That’s when the FAA will start eliminating more than $600 million in expenditures as required by the automatic budget cuts triggered by federal sequestration.

Among items listed on the chopping block will be the overnight shift at Centennial’s air traffic control tower.

Airport Executive Director Robert Olislagers is not happy with the move, vowing to fight back as long as possible.

“First of all, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Why would you want to cut air traffic control at the 28th busiest airport in the country?”

Olislagers said the cut will eliminate air traffic control service at Centennial from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and while there’s not an abundance of traffic overnight, he said the traffic that is there is critical.

“In addition to the standard corporate traffic, we’ve got law enforcement and critical med-evac services operating at that time,” he said. “I don’t really understand the logic.”

Centennial is one of the few general aviation towers in the country that is fully staffed by FAA employees and not by contract controllers.

According to Olislagers, the FAA has already told Centennial tower’s 26 employees to expect furloughs.

But ditching the graveyard shift will impact more than just overnight operations.

“It impacts things like snow removal,” Olislagers said. “I’m not paying to send snowplows out to clear a runway with no tower control. We’ll begin the next morning at 6 a.m. and standard operations will just have to wait until the runway is cleared.”

Snowplow operations on the active runway are controlled by the tower.

Safety is also a concern.

Olislagers said Centennial has had 24-hour tower operations for decades and its after-dark lighting system is not configured for self-activation like many smaller, uncontrolled airports, forcing some inbound traffic after dark to divert.

“The sad part about this,” he said, “is it’s all political. The cuts are all in personnel and not in programs — the FAA is not letting the locals have any control such as deciding which programs are critical and which are not.”

Calls to the FAA regional office were not returned.

Olislagers said Centennial, oddly, is still on the list for several federal grants to upgrade lighting and runways.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I can defer regular maintenance for up to a year, but I can’t do without controllers. I’d much rather forgo a runway revamp project to keep controllers in the tower.”

BREAKOUT BOX

Airport cuts

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, changes include furloughing the majority of its 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period; closing close to 200 air traffic control facilities; eliminating the overnight shift at 60 facilities; and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment.

Colorado towers to eliminate overnight shifts

COS – Colorado Springs Tower

APA – Centennial Tower

Colorado towers to close

BJC – Broomfield Tower

FTG – Front Range Tower

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