Steve Rose

Political bluster targets air controllers

Updated: 2013-03-30T23:22:29Z


Special to The Star

When we hear that because of the sequester the air traffic towers will be closed at the New Century AirCenter in Gardner and the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, what probably comes to mind are planes crashing into each other.

That’s probably just what the Obama administration would like you to imagine. Like the closing of White House tours, this is a high-visibility way to make a point that the sequester cuts are painful and we will all feel the pinch.

If this action is any example of what we can expect from the across-the-board budget cuts, then it really is not that painful.

That’s because the executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission, Lee Metcalfe, says the tower closings are not a big deal, although he does, of course, feel very sorry for the 15 individuals who are losing their jobs. They received no notice and all their jobs will end in early May.

“They (the tower closings) are not as a big a deal as some are portraying it,” said Metcalfe. “The pilots we have talked with do not think it’s a big deal.”

Metcalfe, who is also a pilot, said that the vast majority of airports in the country do not have air controllers.

In our own metro area, Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport operates without a tower and never has had one. The Midwest Air Center in Clay County also has never had a tower. Each of those airports handle about 50,000 arrival and departures annually. That is similar to the 50,000 at the New Century AirCenter and the 60,000 at the Johnson County Executive Airport.

Besides that, the two local airports in Johnson County already function without air traffic controllers from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.

So far, Metcalfe has not heard from any clients who are changing plans to land elsewhere. Were they required to have an air traffic tower, the planes would be diverted either to KCI or to the downtown airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration was mandated to cut $600 million out of a $48 billion budget, and they chose tower closings as the way to make the loudest bang. Metcalfe has called the closings “pure political theater.”

The across-the-board budget cuts certainly are not the most prudent way to reduce expenditures. But it certainly is better than not cutting at all.

The Republicans have been hollering that there is room in this multitrillion-dollar national budget to cut, and the big fear among Obama supporters is that the Republicans might be right. Surely, the Defense Department will find ways to meet its new, reduced budget without endangering this nation or sacrificing our global strategy in dealing with the hotbeds of terrorism.

It will be very interesting to see what domestic and defense programs ultimately are cut. Will the reductions be determined by what will cause the least pain, or will the administration seek more “political theater” by ordering the most visible cutbacks?

Presumably, it will be the latter. Otherwise the Republicans may say, “We told you so,” and ask for further cuts.

To reach Steve Rose, a Johnson County columnist, send email to

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