BATTLE CREEK (WWJ/AP) – A Battle Creek official says the city plans to contract with a private company to keep the control tower open at W.K. Kellogg Airport.

City Transportation Director Larry Bowron told the Battle Creek Enquirer that the city needs an air traffic controller service to operate the municipal airport at its current level.

“We can’t do what we do as an airport today without air traffic controller service,” he said.

Bowron said City Manager Ken Tsuchiyama will use emergency authority to hire Midwest Air Traffic Control, which now runs the tower under a federal contract, until it is approved at the next Tax Increment Finance Authority meeting.

The contract would last for six months, at which time the control tower’s funding could be reinstated “in one form or another,” Bowron said.

Bowron said the new arrangement, which will cost about $33,000 per month, means reduced hours.

The decision comes as the Federal Aviation Administration proceeds with plans to make cuts at airports around the country.

The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic. The changes are part of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect March 1.

The airports targeted for tower shutdowns have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations per year, according to the FAA. Of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

The FAA says the closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.

MORE: 3 Michigan Air Traffic Control Towers To Close

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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