FAA to close Tacoma Narrows Airport control tower

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday the control tower at the Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor will close in April as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan. A total of five towers in Washington State will close: Olympia Regional; Renton Municipal; Felts Field; Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field; and Tacoma Narrows. In total, 149 towers will close nationwide.

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” added Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

In early-March, the FAA proposed to close 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration and announced that it would consider keeping open any of these towers if doing so would be in the national interest. The FAA put all airport towers with fewer than 150,000 total operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations on a list for possible closure.

Earlier this month, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) urged FAA officials to keep the Tacoma Narrows Airport control tower open. The FAA collected feedback about tower closures through Weds., March 13, and finalized the list of facility closures this week.

“It is unfortunate that this valuable service will no longer be available to our customers,” said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “We had hoped for a different outcome. We will continue to provide information to the community about the closure as we receive it.”

“Pierce County submitted a letter to the FAA stating the importance of the Tacoma Narrows Airport contract control tower for both national security and economic development,” added Deb Wallace, airport and ferry administrator for Pierce County Public Works and Utilities. “The airport has a diverse mix of military and civilian traffic, as it supports Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s aviation units and their flight training requirements, and is home to business jets and recreational aircraft. The tower provides an additional layer of safety in keeping this traffic separated, and is able to do so more efficiently than individual pilots are able to do on their own.”

Tacoma Narrows Airport will remain open despite the contract tower closure, according to Pierce County officials. Instead of having tower controllers directing air traffic, pilots will use well-defined procedures applicable at all airports without an operating control tower. These standard procedures are already in use between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, and 24 hours per day at Pierce County Airport-Thun Field, which is also operated by Pierce County and has never had a control tower.

The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the 149 federal contract towers beginning on Sun., April 7. A complete list of the control tower closures is available online here.

Pierce County's Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor. (PHOTO COURTESY PIERCE COUNTY)