Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport has the formal closing date for its air traffic control tower, but the airport's governing board also is interested in joining a lawsuit seeking to overturn tower closures across the nation.
Lawton's tower, operated by private firm employees rather than controllers with the Federal Aviation Administration, is one of 149 contract air traffic control towers that will close in the next six weeks as the FAA cuts $637 million from its budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year under sequestration, automatic spending cuts mandated by federal law after Congress failed to reach an agreement on the federal budget. In early March, FAA and the Department of Transportation warned officials at the nation's contracted control towers that the majority faced closure as the agency coped with budget cuts.
In mid-March, the FAA said it would accept appeals from airports that could make arguments that closing their towers would affect national interest. Only one Oklahoma airport Enid's Wooding Regional Airport won its appeal; four airports, including Lawton, will close. A sixth airport on the master list, Ardmore Municipal, will remain open because it is a cost-share facility, meaning local funds help support it.
Airport Manager Barbara McNally said the FAA is closing the control towers in three phases and Lawton is slated for the final phase, meaning the final day for its four air traffic controllers is May 5. FAA officials have said they will close 24 contract towers on April 7, 46 on April 21, and 79 on May 5.
Closure is leaving several unanswered questions, McNally said, noting the facility was built (meaning it is owned) by the FAA, but those officials haven't said who is responsible for actually closing the tower and who is responsible for maintaining it.
"I assume there will be more guidance as it goes along," she said.
McNally said there also are more practical operational concerns, including who will be responsible for checking and turning on the airport's Instrument Landing System (ILS) after hours, something the tower staff now checks. She is working with Fort Sill Approach on a proposal for a system that would use a telephone line to notify officials when the ILS system is not operating. Buddy Thornton, Fort Sill Approach's representative on the airport authority, said the equipment trips an alarm to notify Fort Sill Approach that Lawton's ILS is not working. Thornton said installing the equipment might be as simple as installing a dedicated telephone line, but the ultimate solution still must have FAA approval before proceeding.