KENNESAW — The looming closure of the air-traffic control tower at McCollum Airport in Kennesaw because of federal budget cuts from the sequester has been put off from June to Sept. 30.
“It’s a good sign,” County Chairman Tim Lee said. “It’s a good step in the right direction, and I hope to be able to work with the FAA and our federal representatives to find a way to continue having it open into the future.”
The federal government spends about $700,000 a year for one part-time and six full-time employees to provide air-traffic control services at McCollum Field.
That staff was scheduled to be laid off and the tower closed in April. The airport would have continued to operate and staff county employees, but planes would have had to rely on plane-to-plane communications in order to land.
Lee worried about the safety involved in closing the tower and said it would hurt the county’s efforts with business recruitment. During a trip to Washington, D.C. in May, Lee spoke with officials with the Federal Aviation Administration to tell them the importance of keeping Cobb’s tower open.
Bob Ott, a Cobb County commissioner who also is a pilot for Delta Air Lines, said the Obama administration’s strategy with the sequester has been to make it as painful as possible for the citizenry so residents would beg for a tax increase. However, Ott said, “You’re talking about public safety. You can’t start messing with that.”
Ott credited the county’s airport advisory board for taking a proactive approach by forming two standing committees, one to implement the necessary safety steps if the tower was closed, and the other to look at privately funding the tower in the future. Ott called it strategic rather than reactive planning.
“And I think that that’s just really how we have to do it because when you’re talking about safety you don’t want someone else in Washington not worrying about safety telling you what you’re going to do,” Ott said. “I think what we’ve tried to do is be proactive and take control of the situation on our own.”