Airport tower closures a concern for Sun 'n Fun - FOX 13 News

Airport tower closures a concern for Sun 'n Fun

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LAKELAND (FOX 13) -

During Sun 'n Fun, Lakeland Linder Regional Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world.

Aviation buffs come from here and abroad to experience the fly in. Even with that acclaim, it may be scrambling for air traffic controllers this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to close almost 180 air traffic control towers at small and medium sized airports across the country.

Two are in Tampa Bay. Lakeland Linder is one. Albert Whitted in Saint Petersburg is the other.

During the fly in, planes of all sorts are constantly taking off and landing. Sport planes, Mustangs, experimental aircraft, helicopters, C-130's.

"And those things don't all move at the same speed, so you have to sequence everything together," Lakeland Linder Airport Manager Gene Conrad told FOX 13 on Thursday.

"This is definitely a safety issue," Conrad said."If you took a busy intersection in anybody's town and you pulled out the stoplights, and the following day you just had stop signs up, that's what we're dealing with."

Conrad and other managers have until March 13 to write a letter to the FAA explaining why their air traffic controllers should be spared. They expect a final decision the following week.

The letter has to show the national impact if a tower is shut down. Conrad is going to build his case on two points: The fly in is an international event, and the airport was a storage and staging area for relief efforts during the 2004 hurricane season when Tampa Bay was hit by four major storms in succession.

If the FAA cuts the air traffic controllers, Sun 'n Fun would have to pay for their own, which would cost at least $100,000. A spokesman says that money would come from scholarships and grants intended for students.

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