Manhattan airport loses tower funding

By Corene Brisendine

Manhattan Regional Airport is one of 149 small airports across the country losing funding for their control towers on April 7, according to a list released Friday afternoon by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The decision followed $85 billion in federal spending cuts across the government, including $637 million in cuts the FAA is required to make by Sept. 30.

Manhattan Airport Director Peter Van Kuren said the tower funding has no effect on services provided by the airport, but it will affect how pilots land and take off.

“Not receiving funding does not mean the airport will close,” he said. “The American Airlines service to Dallas and O’Hare, the contract to support military operations and university charters will all continue.”

American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said it is too soon to say what impact — if any — the move will have on local commercial flights and said the Regional Airlines Association is looking into what effect the cuts will mean for regional airports like Manhattan’s across the country.

“Regional airlines serve some 650 U.S. airports — nearly three-quarters of which rely exclusively on regionals — and in our effort to continue serving these communities, RAA will continue to work closely with FAA to identify suitable alternatives,” said Scott Foose, Regional Airline Association senior vice president of operations and safety.

Van Kuren said the cut in funding does not necessarily mean the tower will be shut down, either. He said the city owns the tower, but the FAA has provided funding to cover the cost of operations by paying the employees who work in the tower. The funding will be pulled April 7, and the tower will continue to function until then.

After that date, the future is still uncertain. Van Kuren said he will be working with city management in looking at options that span two scenarios: have the city cover the entire operating cost of the tower and keep everything in place as it is currently; or completely shut down the tower and change the status of the airport from a control-tower-operated airport to unmanned airport status.

Van Kuren said the city does not know how much the FAA was paying for the four air traffic controllers to man the Manhattan airport control tower because those contracts were between the FAA and the company staffing the tower. But he said it would probably cost the city hundreds of thousands per year to staff it.

According to, air traffic controllers in Kansas City, Mo., make $57.75 an hour or about $120,120 per year.

Van Kuren said the city would probably send the contract out for bids — just as it would a construction project — to gauge the cost of operating the tower. Any decision to staff the tower ultimately would have to be approved by the city commission.

But Van Kuren said the airport can function without air traffic controllers. He said all pilots are trained land at airports with unmanned status, and the tower is not the end-all to safety. Rather, it is an added layer of safety to the airport.

Although Van Kuren remains optimistic, he said he is very disappointed the FAA decided to pull the funding.

“We are disappointed in that decision because of the large number of military operations that occur around the airport,” he said. “It’s best to have the tower, but moving forward we’re going to do what’s best for the community.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, who now lives in Manhattan, released a statement following the announcement by the FAA.

“The administration’s decision to shutter these air traffic control towers is short-sighted and dangerous,” Moran said. “Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stop lights and stop signs from our roads. It is clear that this administration is putting its top-line message, that spending cannot be cut without severe consequences, before the safety and well-being of Americans.”

Moran also said that while his resolution to save the control towers was blocked, he was not done fighting for them to remain operational.

Other Kansas control towers that were closed included Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka, Hutchinson Municipal in Hutchinson, New Century Air Center in Olathe, and Johnson County Executive in Olathe.

Two towers that were removed from the original list in Kansas were Forbes Field in Topeka and Garden City Regional in Garden City. It was determined by the FAA that closing those two airport control towers “would have a negative impact on the national interest,” and were removed after both airports submitted a waiver request to the FAA.

A total of 24 airport towers were removed from the original list, according to Moran’s statement.

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