Jim Cline regards the overnight control-tower operation at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport as indispensable.
Cline, who owns a charter company that serves Children's Mercy Hospital, estimates that 30 percent of the sick patients he flies in after midnight are in critical condition. The staffed control tower lets him land more quickly, improving the chances of those children's survival.
This week, Cline and several others who care about the Downtown Airport met there with officials to make sure the government doesn't start thinking about eliminating the tower's overnight shifts as part of a nationwide cost-cutting measure.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been reviewing control-tower overnight shifts at airports with little air traffic activity between midnight and 5 a.m.
FAA officials said Thursday that Downtown Airport was not among those airports that have been reviewed. And no control tower shift decisions have been made anywhere.
"I'm not sure why that meeting (at the airport) was held," said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro. "The FAA has never studied Downtown Airport and there are no plans to consider it at all."
Downtown Airport officials and users said they wanted to voice their concerns. They met with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers, and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Tarkio, Mo., Republican who represents the Northland.
"This airport is the front door to Kansas City," said Dan Meisinger, president of Executive Beechcraft, an aviation business that operates at the Downtown Airport. "Any degradation of service would be a chink in that image."
Association spokeswoman Velvet Kennedy said the meeting was a proactive measure.
The association, which has been critical of the FAA?s cost-cutting proposals, said the Downtown Airport averages about four landings or takeoffs an hour during the overnight shift. It fears that those numbers might lead the FAA to consider the control tower for future cuts.
Cline said it would take about 15 minutes longer to land without radar guidance from the control tower because pilots would have to rely on visibility.
Dimitrios Roussopoulos, a pilot for Midwest Transplant Network, said the organization often uses the airport at night to bring donor organs to transplant recipients.
In those situations, every minute is critical, he said.
Graves acknowledged the FAA's need to cut costs, but said any reduction of control tower operations at the Downtown Airport would be "disastrous."
"I liken this situation to an emergency room at a small-town hospital," he said. "They might only get one or two patients a night, but heaven forbid if someone talks about closing that emergency room and you are one of those few patients."
As part of a nationwide cost-cutting effort, the Federal Aviation Administration has been reviewing control-tower overnight shifts at airports with little air traffic between midnight and 5 a.m.
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