Neither the Pittsfield Municipal Airport nor the Harriman and West Airport in North Adams will be affected by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to close 149 air traffic control towers at small airports throughout the country.
That’s because neither airports has an air traffic control tower anyway. On Friday, the FAA released a statement and a list of the 149 towers scheduled to close across the country to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from the administration’s budget as a result of a bill passed in Congress to fund the government until September.
The closures will not force any of the airports to shut down, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers.
It’s what the two Berkshire airports were doing anyway as non-tower airports.
"As a pilot, I can tell you I feel more comfortable coming into a towered airport when it comes to bumping into someone," said Bill Greenwald, the interim airport manager of Harriman and West Airport. "A towered airport is by definition safer than a non-towered airport. The people up there are traffic cops."
Five airports in Massachusetts will lose their air traffic control towers: Beverly, New Bedford, Lawrence, Worcester and Norwood.
Small airports that will lose their towers must rely on a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), a radio frequency that helps pilots communicate with each other to give enough space when landing, taxiing and taking off.
"It’s a matter of communicating your movements and actions on the radio," he said. "Pilots are very highly trained to operate on non-towered airports. It’s not at all uncommon."
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.
"It’s a shame. It always feels like the cuts get made to everything but Congress’ own private health plan," Greenwald said. "There are things that we could cut into that are not inherently part of our safety culture. I don’t know what they are though."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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