FAA tower cuts could have domino effect in Arizona

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Owners of a major international flight school are threatening to pull out of Phoenix-Goodyear Airport, if and when the air traffic controllers leave their tower. 

It's a domino effect of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was forced to cut its budget by more than $600 million.   Officials chose to close control towers at 149 small airports nationwide, each of which saw fewer than 150,000 flights last year.

In Arizona, airports in Goodyear, Glendale, Bullhead City, and Tucson will see their towers shut down. Pilots would have to rely on communication between each other over radios, to coordinate take-offs and landings.

Air Training Centers of Arizona (ATCA) has been operating for decades in Goodyear, and accounts for 85 percent of the flights at the airport in the Southwest Valley.

ATCA trains pilots for Germany's Lufthansa Airlines, as well as the German Air Force.  Around 200 pilots-in-training are currently living in the dorms adjacent to the airport.

Matthias Kippenberg, who runs ATCA, says his students and teachers depend on the controllers, and know them by name.

"We cannot imagine operating in Goodyear without a tower. Definitely not," Kippenberg told 3TV.

"We have 80 planes flying all day, nonstop," he said. "And we love and depend on our tower folks.  They're understanding of our new students when they make mistakes in the beginning.  They're patient and help them out."

Kippenberg, along with city officials from across the Valley appealed to the federal government to keep the towers staffed.

"The city did everything it could to communicate to the federal government how important this tower is.  We have an international flight school training out of this airport, and without a tower, they'll leave," said Julie Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the City of Phoenix on aviation issues.

The parties are still meeting to figure out a solution. One option would be for the cities to step in and pay the salaries of the air traffic controllers.

The FAA will begin a four-week closing phase at the towers, beginning April 7.