By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
Barring a last-minute reprieve, the air traffic control tower at Tupelo Regional Airport will close May 5.
Josh Abramson, TRA’s executive director, said Monday the last official day of operations for the tower will be May 4.
The Tupelo tower, which is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., is staffed by five workers. They’ll be unemployed when the tower closes.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would shut off funding to 149 air traffic control towers nationwide.
The FAA pays contractors to run the majority of airport towers. As part of a $637 million budget cut required by sequestration, the agency’s first move was to stop funding to the contract towers.
The tower closings will begin April 7 and last about a month.
Other airports in Mississippi that will have their towers closed are Greenville’s Delta Regional Airport, Jackson’s Hawkins Field, Bay St. Louis’ Stennis International Airport, and Olive Branch Airport.
Losing a tower doesn’t close an airport. But pilots who are landing and taking off must communicate with each other by radio instead of relying on controllers on the ground. The lack of a tower makes airports ineligible for military flights and could slow operations.
Training jets from Columbus Air Force base still will be able to perform “touch-and-go” maneuvers in Tupelo, but will be unable to land because of military regulations.
That will affect fuel sales, Abramson said.
However, the Army Aviation Support Facility adjacent to Tupelo Regional still will be able to operate, with some modifications.
Maj. Dereck Holland, the commander of the AASF, said the closure of the control tower at Tupelo will not affect the volume or frequency of flight operations from his facility.
“It will require some procedural modifications and increased vigilance on the part of aircrews to maintain safety and traffic separation both on the surface and in the local airspace,” he said. “In the absence of services generally provided by the air traffic controllers, the entire responsibility for traffic avoidance in the vicinity of the airport will rest with the airspace users.”
Memphis International Airport also provides direct help in giving clearances and releases for instrument flights, but that will no longer be available either.
Holland said, “It is possible that timeliness for obtaining clearances both into and out of the airport may be somewhat degraded.”
Abramson also said operations would likely be slowed by the loss of the air traffic control tower.