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Dark Skies Ahead: Closing of N.J. Air Traffic Control Towers Threatens Safety

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BY VALERIE CHAMPAGNE
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

The big bad sequester that no one actually thought Congress would let happen has gone into effect, and with it will be going two of New Jersey’s air traffic control towers that serve the Essex County and Trenton-Mercer airports.

The $85 billion in government budget cuts have already affected military spending and federally funded programs like Head Start – which has been a source of debate among politicians and pundits alike.

The towers are scheduled to close in April and are only two out of 200 airports affected by $600 million in Federal Aviation Administration budget cuts, reported the Star Ledger.

Some people are raising concerns over the safety of the towers closing due to the airports sharing airspace with larger airports like Newark Liberty International Airport, which is only 13 miles away from the Essex County Airport.

Despite the fact that most airports in the United States do not have air traffic control towers, Essex County and Trenton-Mercer are near big international airports that have constant departures and arrivals, which cause crowded skies.

Without the control towers, pilots will have to take on much more responsibility while flying and it has been suggested that during bad weather, flight diversions could take place at Trenton-Mercer airport.

Executive director of the Essex County Improvement Authority, James Paganelli, believes the tower is a necessity telling the Ledger “It benefits the airport and the safety of flight in and out of the airport.”

Congressional representatives are also upset over the scheduled closings with Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Aviation, saying the FAA has not given enough financial data to his subcommittee to prove that it cannot absorb the cuts.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose district includes Mercer County, told the Ledger, “This is the kind of pain that people all over the country are going to feel due to sequestration, and it is especially troubling because Trenton-Mercer is now coming into its own with greatly expanded service.”

According to the Ledger, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, chose airports with less than 150,000 departures and landings, or 10,000 commercial departures and landings, but airport managers received letters from the FAA last week saying that the only criteria to keep a facility from closing was be a “negative impact on the national interest.”

 

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