LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)— Budget cuts threaten the future of air traffic controllers at the La Crosse airport, but the impact on travelers will be minimal.
The sequester, a series of budget cuts that took effect on March 1 is going impact at eight Wisconsin airports, including La Crosse. The air traffic control tower at the airport is set to close April 7 as a result of the cuts.
"Pilots are trained to operate in uncontrolled fields and there are procedures in place to ensure that that's safe," said Clint Torp, the manager of the La Crosse airport.
But closing the tower does mean four full time employees are out of a job, and in bad weather there could be more delays.
"The real impact comes on days when it's bad weather," Torp said. "They're only allowed to bring so many aircrafts in a certain amount of time into the field from other airports. So without a tower present, there could be delays in getting in to the airspace based on the weather."
And for companies that fly private planes in and out of the airport, not having a tower could deter business.
"If you have a business in town or that's looking to move in, having their own plane or either flying in, they'd rather have a tower on the field, it just from a safety standpoint, gives them a little more flexibility," said Ron Schmal, the president of La Crosse Airfest.
The la Crosse tower is just one of about 180 set to close around the country, and all of those towers are operated by private companies, not the FAA.
"There's obviously a lot of airports out there that are still FAA towers," Torp said. "So perhaps the FAA looks at moving those towers in to the contract program which runs at about a forth to a fifth of the cost of an FAA tower."
Though he's hopeful Congress will reach a deal before the tower shuts down, Torp says if it closes, it's unlikely it would ever reopen.
If all the towers scheduled to close shut down, there will only be four airports with air traffic controllers in all of Wisconsin. The eight airports affected state, in addition to La Crosse, are Waukesha County, Janesville. Oshkosh, Milwaukee Timmerman, Kenosha, Eau Claire and Mosinee.
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