Despite a weeks-long appeal process, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that Dothan’s air traffic control tower is among 149 federal contract towers set for closure on April 7.
The announcement was anticipated earlier this month but was delayed due to concerns from many communities.
Though the air traffic control tower is closing, the airport will remain open and normal flight activity will continue.
The FAA initially proposed closing 189 towers, but announced it would consider keeping some towers open if doing so was of national importance.
The closures are part of the FAA’s plan to deal with $637 million in cuts required by budget sequestration.
Dothan and Wiregrass officials made their case for national importance in recent weeks, but the FAA still decided to close the Dothan tower.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” said Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz. “I believe we had a great appeal concerning national interest and that they should have elected to keep our tower open because of Fort Rucker.”
In their appeal, officials focused on the tower’s military usage.
“I thought we made a very good case. We talked about the number of military operations we got,” said Dothan Regional Airport Director Art Morris. “Of the Part 139 airports in the U.S., we rank No. 6 in number of military operations. Brookley Field in Mobile ranked No. 4. They’re keeping their tower, we’re losing ours.”
In addition to losing military training operations, Morris said a tower closure will hinder the airport’s ability to attract a major employer to the facility once occupied by Pemco World Air Services.
Because of the tower’s importance, local leaders are now scrambling to develop a plan that may allow the tower to remain open without federal funding.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the announcement, but we’re not going to give up,” Morris said. “There is a team of people from the chamber (of commerce) and others that are involved that are working on a ‘Plan B’ to see what we can do to keep the tower open. Obviously it’s not going to be through federal sources, but we’ll see if there’s a possibility of raising some local revenue to pay for the contract ourselves.”
Schmitz said he’s committed to making such a plan work, and several ideas are currently being kicked around.
“We as a community need to come up with options for how to participate in the FAA’s non-federal tower program, which means we take it over and keep it open for some amount of hours,” he said. “We’re already looking at two or three options. Hopefully sometime in the next week or two we’ll have a decision that’s the best option for Dothan.”
While no guarantee for the tower’s future was made Friday, Schmitz said it’s vitally important to the Wiregrass.
“It’s important for a number of reasons, one for people who are out there now, two for recruiting of the company we’re trying to get to come to our community, and also for the future of our community,” he said. “It’s a priority we need to work out.”
The FAA opted to keep 24 federal contract towers that had previously been on a list for closure due to a potential “negative impact on the national interest,” while another 16 will remain due to a federal cost-share program.
Tuscaloosa Regional Airport’s control tower is also on the list of closures in Alabama.