By Paul Leighton
---- — BEVERLY — The air traffic control tower at Beverly Municipal Airport is among the 149 nationwide that will close due to the federal sequestration budget cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration has announced.
Beverly Airport manager Robert Mezzetti said the tower, which has been in operation since 1977, will be shut down some time after April 7, when the FAA will start closing towers in phases.
Airport officials were informed in early March that the tower could close, but the official word did not come until Friday.
“This is all still a shock to me,” said Mezzetti, who, in a March 17 letter that appeared in the Times, urged readers to write to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and William Cowan, Congressman John Tierney, and Aviation Subcommittee member Congressman Michael Capuano to “urge them to identify other savings in FAA’s air traffic budget before they close our tower.”
The closing of five Massachusetts airport towers, however, came despite a plea by the state’s congressional delegation to keep them open. In a letter to the FAA, the delegation said the closings “will jeopardize the safety of the flying public as well as that of residents within a certain proximity to these airports, have a negative impact on regional economics and threaten our military readiness.”
“I am so disappointed in our government,” Mezzetti said Friday.
The FAA said it is closing 149 towers that operate under federal contracts. The agency said it decided to keep open 24 towers that had been slated to close “because doing so would have had a negative impact on the national interest.”
Beverly Airport is among five airports in Massachusetts where towers will close. The others are in Lawrence, Worcester, Norwood and New Bedford. The airport in Westfield is among the 24 that were spared.
Mezzetti said the airport will still be safe without the control tower, “but not as safe because we always had that extra set of eyes with the tower.”
Mezzetti said pilots will communicate with each other over a common frequency that allows them to share information about their location and when they plan to take off, land, or taxi.
North Atlantic Air, a company at the airport that services planes and provides parking, will also communicate with pilots, he said.
“All these pilots know how to fly into these airports without towers,” Mezzetti said.
Mezzetti said he has scheduled a meeting today with the Beverly and Danvers fire departments. He said the control tower communicates with those departments when firefighters need to get on airport property, which is located in both communities. Now the fire departments will have to be on the same frequency to communicate directly with pilots.
Beverly Airport is owned by the city of Beverly but the control tower is owned by the FAA.
The government contracts out to a private company, Midwest Air Traffic, to provide the air traffic controllers. The tower is open in the winter from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The airport is regularly used by private planes and business travelers to and from Cape Ann.
The FAA said the towers are closing as part of its plan to meet $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration. A number of Cape Ann companies, including Gorton’s of Gloucester, Bomco, and Strong Leather Co. of Gloucester are also facing potential cuts in Defense Department cuts through the sequestration spending reductions.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
Mezzetti said he does not know how much money the FAA will save by closing the Beverly Airport tower.
The FAA said it will work with local airports and pilots “to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports.”
Beverly Airport handled 59,000 takeoffs and landings last year by a range of aircraft, from single-engine planes to larger corporate jets.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.