Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Congressman Fred Upton says Battle Creek may have case for reversing decision to close air traffic control tower

KALAMAZOO, MI -- With both the military and an aviation school based there, Battle Creek may have a case for reversing the FAA decision to close W.K. Kellogg's air traffic control tower, said Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.

"It would seem to me, at least on the surface, that Battle Creek has a pretty good case to be made," said Upton in a phone interview. "We're going to be engaged in getting to the bottom of why that tower was closed."

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that the contract tower at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek would be among 149 nationwide to have their federal funding withdrawn. Under the sequester, which took effect March 1, the FAA has to cut $637 million.

The towers -- which are all "contract" towers, meaning the federal government contracts with companies to provide air-traffic control services -- will be closed during a four-week period beginning April 7.

Two other Michigan airports -- the Coleman A. Young International Airport in Detroit and Sawyer International in Marquette -- also were on the list. Airports in Jackson, Ann Arbor and Muskegon, which were originally slated to lose their towers, received a reprieve.

Upton said that he would be investigating the decision to defund the Battle Creek tower and was drafting a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

When the House voted March 21 to pass a continuing resolution (H.R. 933) to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year, it built in flexibility for certain agencies, such as the FAA, to prioritize how cuts would be made, Upton said.

Upton represents Michigan's 6th congressional district, which includes Kalamazoo, the home base of Western Michigan University. The city of Battle Creek is represented by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade, whose office did not respond to requests for comment from MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.

WMU operates the country's third-largest aviation school out of the airport in Battle Creek. W.K. Kellogg is also home to the Battle Creek Air National Guard, as well as Duncan Aviation, a refurbisher of jet planes.

Battle Creek's airport saw 82,000 operations in 2012, according to Capt. Steve Jones, director of flight operations for WMU's College of Aviation. Compare that with Lake Murray State Park Airport in Oklahoma, which received $150,000 a year from the federal government, according to a February story in The Washington Post. Lake Murray saw perhaps one takeoff or landing a week, the Post reported, with some weeks going by with no landings. Last Friday, between noon and 1 p.m., W.K. Kellogg saw 77 in an hour -- more than one a minute. (On March 18, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission voted unanimously to close the Lake Murray airport.)

"We're going to be asking legitimate questions related to the announcement, compared with some other towers that were left open," said Upton. "I want to make sure that the Battle Creek airport was treated fairly."


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