The federal budget cuts slated to happen later this week could mean the control tower at Beverly Airport could go unmanned later the spring, leaving pilots up to themselves to work out takeoffs, landing and other airport activity.
Airport Manager Robert Mezzetti said Beverly Municipal Airport is in line to have its staff of air traffic controllers cut if the so-called sequestration occurs on Friday.
The 415-acre airport sits in Beverly, Danvers and Wenham, with the northern extent of one of the runways extending into Wenham.
The air traffic control services are contracted to Midwest ATC Service Inc., a Overland Park, Kansas-based contractor that handles air traffic control duties through a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration at most of the small and medium-size airports in Massachusetts.
Midwest President and CEO Shane Cordes told Danvers Patch that he is “concerned with the negative impact to aviation safety and efficiency resulting from the closure of air traffic control towers.”
If the cuts occur, it will be enacted at the end of March or the beginning of April, Mezzetti said.
“It would have quite an impact on Massachusetts,” he said.
The Beverly Airport tower is manned 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the winter and until 9 p.m. in the summer. There has been an air traffic controller at Beverly Airport since the current control tower was constructed in 1974. It is typically staffed with 1-3 air traffic controllers at a time. The airport sees a total of 59,000 takeoffs and landings per year.
The air traffic controllers help increase safety at the airport, Mezzetti said. In the past year, for example, controllers notified three different aircrafts that they were coming in with the landing gear up.
“That is pretty significant,” Mezzetti said.
The controllers also help keep aircraft a safe distance from each other.
Without air traffic controllers, pilot will have to work out takeoffs, landings and taxing among themselves using a common frequency known as Unicom. Pilots would have to announce over the frequency when they are 10 miles away from the airport, on approach, getting ready to land, starting to taxi and other movements. It is a system that is used at other, smaller airport across the country and during the overnights in Beverly.
The biggest impact in Beverly would be that some corporate jets might not land in Beverly if their operating procedures bar them from landing at an airport with an unmanned tower.
“It would be up to a particular corporation that has a jet,” Mezzetti said.
In the case of an emergency, there would still be airport staff at the airport and at the fixed-based operator until 10 p.m. Plus, Boston Approach Control in Nashua, N.H. monitors all aircraft in the region and would notify first responders in Beverly, Danvers and Wenham in the case of an emergency.
Mezzetti said he has been working with the state Department of Transportation aeronautics division and the Massachusetts Airport Managers Association to contact federal legislators via letter, e-mail and phone calls about the impact of the cuts.
Mezzetti said he has already begun making plans in case the control tower is closed, meeting with regular users and the flight schools that operate at the airport to discuss the use of Unicom and the procedures.