Airport saved from tower cuts

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Front Range Airport has been scratched off the list of airports nationwide that were scheduled to shutter their control towers within the next week.

The airport, which was one of 24 exempted from the nationwide cuts, was one of the 189 small- to medium-sized airports across the country targeted in early March for airport controller reductions and control tower closures beginning on April 7.

The narrowly avoided cuts, which would have eliminated five full-time contracted airport controller positions and shuttered the eight-year-old control tower, were a part of the $85.4 billion in sequestered cuts targeted for 2013.

The cuts began on March 1 after Congress failed to pass a deficit-reduction plan.

The dilemma unfolded on March 8 when Federal Aviation Administration Chief Operating Officer J. David Grizzle informed Front Range Airport Executive Director Dennis Heap about the planned cuts in an e-mail.

According to the email, the funding cuts were specifically directed toward contract tower airports that had fewer than 150,000 total operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations during the 2012 fiscal year.

Grizzle said the cuts could be avoided, if closing the tower “would have a negative impact on the national interest,” which included significant threats identified by the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security; adverse economic impacts beyond a local community level; significant multi-state transportation, communication or banking networks; and the extent at which an airport would be used as a diversionary location for a larger airport.

Letters sent by several Adams County and state officials in the following weeks, including those sent by Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, cited the importance of Spaceport Colorado and the close proximity to Denver International Airport as primary reasons for the airport to remain open.

Heap received news on March 22 that the airport was exempted from the planned closures.

“This whole process, while it was kind of gut-wrenching, raised us to a higher and better level even nationwide by saying that Front Range Airport and Spaceport Colorado has national importance,” Heap said. “What I think it does is strengthen what we’re doing as far as the Spaceport is concerned because it just shows how viable the airport is already.”