In spite of its on-again-off-again relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget woes, Centennial Airport’s graveyard shift is now officially off the chopping block, thanks to a hefty pushback not only by airport officials, but by neighboring community leaders, too.
Airport Executive Director Robert Olislagers said the FAA notified Congress late on May 7 that the order to study the closure of the night shift at 72 towers had been rescinded.
“That battle is now over and unlikely to come back up,” he said.
Douglas County District 1 Commissioner Jack Hilbert said he’s pleased with the decision and that the move is the result of a community effort to get the FAA’s attention.
Centennial Airport, which lies in both Arapahoe and Douglas counties, is one of the bigger aviation and aerospace economic development clusters in the state, according to Olislagers.
Hilbert, who helped lead the effort, said the grassroots work garnered the support of several communities, including Parker and Lone Tree, and multiple businesses and economic development organizations.
“For us, it wasn’t just the just the job issue,” Hilbert said. “Community safety factors came into play, too.”
Centennial Airport has had a long-running distinction as one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country, Olislagers has said if Centennial did lose its night-shift air traffic control operation, it would only be a matter of time before accidents would follow.
“Doing away with the night shift at Centennial doesn’t mean that flights shut down,” explained Hilbert. “What it means that pilots would then have to coordinate takeoffs and landings and amongst each other, and that’s not the safest environment in a busy airspace with jet traffic.”
The decision on the midnight shifts was separate from other actions the FAA has been considering as part of the federal budget sequestration, the government’s mandated efforts to cut spending that began March 1.
In March, four Colorado airport towers were on the FAA’s hit list; Broomfield and Front Range were designated for closure, and Centennial and Colorado Springs for elimination of the overnight shift.
The agency is still mulling whether to close 149 contract towers at smaller and mid-sized airports around the country.