How The Sequester Will Impact South Florida's Small Airports

Mar 22, 2013

Air traffic controller Ron Wooldridge looks out over the runway of Boca Raton Airport.
Credit Christine DiMattei

On any given day, 53-year-old Ron Wooldridge guides dozens of flights in and out of Boca Raton Airport, just east of I-95. But early next month, instead of manning the airport's control tower, he could be standing on the unemployment line.

"I find it a little ridiculous,” says Wooldridge. “They're not thinking of the safety of the aircraft.  Or how it's going to affect the rest of the city itself."

Automatic federal budget cuts that took effect this month could force the Federal Aviation Administration to close control towers at least 170 small airports nationwide.

At Boca Raton Airport, that means Wooldridge and four other air traffic controllers would lose their jobs the first week of April.

Broward County's North Perry Airport and Miami-Dade's Opalocka Airport are in the same boat.

Without air traffic controllers guiding take-offs or landings, pilots would have to direct themselves, by way of radio communications with other pilots. 

But Broward County Aviation Department spokesman Greg Meyer says safety concerns arise whenever a number of airplanes are in the same air space at the same time, trying to speak on the same frequency.

“You have arrivals and departures of very fast-moving aircraft,” says Meyer.  “It's important that they get the proper management. Human life is potentially at stake."

Miami-Dade Aviation Department spokesman Mark Henderson says the tower closures could also have a negative impact on the aviation businesses in or around the airports.

"Corporate jets cannot go into an airport that has no controlled tower. That’s part of their insurance requirements,” says Henderson. “So when we have a couple of what we call fixed-base operators -- they do everything except for fly planes -- they would begin to suffer business-wise.”

The FAA plans to announce its final decision on the control tower closures today.