WSDOT urges FAA to keep Tacoma Narrows Airport control tower open

The Washington State Department of Transportation is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to implement measures to stop airport tower closures that could impact eight airports, including Pierce County’s Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor.

Possible closures are a result of the federal budget sequestration that went into effect March 1. FAA has put all airport towers with fewer than 150,000 total operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations on the list for possible closure.

In a March 8 letter to FAA Director of Terminal Operations Tony Mello, WSDOT Director of Aviation Tristan Atkins emphasized the benefits that airport towers bring to Washington state’s economy, transportation system and emergency response capabilities. Towers listed for possible closure include Walla Walla Regional; Grant County International; Olympia Regional; Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field); Renton Municipal; Felts Field; Tacoma Narrows; and Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field.

The FAA will consider feedback about tower closures on or before Weds., March 13. Submissions may be sent to ATO-Terminal Services at or faxed to ATO-Terminal Services at (202) 493-4565. The FAA plans to finalize the list of facility closures by Mon., March 18.

Last week, Pierce County officials announced the possible contract control tower closure at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.

Tacoma Narrows Airport will remain open if the FAA contract tower closes, according to Pierce County officials. Instead of having tower controllers directing air traffic, pilots would 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.

“We value having the FAA’s contract tower onsite for our pilots, and hope that it continues this important operation,” said Deb Wallace, Pierce County Public Works and Utilities airport and ferry administrator. “The decision to close the tower is not yet final, and Pierce County will advocate for the tower to remain open.”

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