By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
The Federal Aviation Administration spared a few air traffic control towers, but Tupelo was not among them.
On Friday, the agency said 149 contract towers would be closed starting April 7.
Other Mississippi airports included on the list are Bay St. Louis, Greenville, Jackson’s Hawkins Field and Olive Branch.
Sequestration called for more than $620 million in cuts the FAA must implement by Sept. 30. Last month, the agency issued an initial list of 173 towers that would lose FAA funding.
Exceptions would be considered for those affecting “national interests,” and indeed, the agency on Friday said 24 would be spared, at least for now.
Columbus’ Golden Triangle Airport and Meridian’s Key Field were on that list. Golden Triangle is near Columbus Air Force Base, while Meridian is home to a naval air station.
Josh Abramson, executive director of Tupelo Regional Airport, has been in Washington and said he met with the FAA to see what funding might be available for the Tupelo tower.
The FAA pays the contracting company in Tupelo more than $500,000 annually to staff the tower. Nationwide, the FAA contracts tower services to 251 airports.
Likely the only way to keep the tower operating in Tupelo is for the city itself to fund it.
However, Abramson said it’s not likely.
“The city is aware of it, but the question hasn’t been raised,” he said.
With the airport’s finances already stressed, it would be an uphill battle to get the city to reach into its coffers to keep the tower operational, he said.
A tower shutdown doesn’t meant planes won’t be flying to and from Tupelo Regional. But instead of having air communication and ground communication with the tower, pilots will have to rely only on air communication between themselves before taking off and landing at Tupelo, as well as any other airport without a control tower.