RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio – This is a turbulent time for many air traffic controllers.
The Federal Aviation Administration is closing air traffic control towers at 149 small-volume airports nationwide.
One airport in northeastern Ohio is on that list: Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights.
Scott Huth is an air traffic controller and tower chief at the airport.
He is losing his job.
“At this point I feel like it’s kind of been ripped out from underneath me,” Huth said.
Even though the towers are closing, the airports can stay open.
Cuyahoga County Airport will remain open. Instead of a controller guiding planes in, it will be up to pilots to self-land and talk to each other on a radio to avoid collisions.
“We’re basically on our own,” said Tom Cooke, certified flight instructor and pilot.
Cooke says attempting to navigate the air space without assistance and even necessary weather reports and other warnings will be extremely dangerous.
“You’ll have jets travelling at over 200 mph, have smaller aircraft single engine Piper Cubs Cessna’s travelling at 60 mph-60 knots ... you’re never going to be able to see them,” said Cooke.
The airport currently handles at least 100 flights per day with many more planes travelling through its airspace.
There are also thousands of employees working on the property, serving its many customers and companies.
“We have two fortune 500 companies here,” said Jason Whitten, grounds supervisor. “If safety becomes a concern, naturally companies are going to want to steer away.”
The FAA must cut nearly $600 million from its annual budget as part of the sequestration.
All the control towers the FAA is shutting down are contract towers, not owned by the FAA.
The air traffic control tower at Lahm Airport in Mansfield, which is owned by the FAA, was originally on the chopping block, but the FAA is keeping that tower open.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is condemning the closure.
“Closure of the air traffic control tower at the Cuyahoga County Airport is a mistake and could have serious consequences,” FitzGerald said in a statement.
The FAA will start phasing out the 149 air traffic control towers beginning on April 7.