Citing a negative impact on military training as well as a potential hindrance to emergency evacuations, the Dothan Regional Airport Authority and Rep. Martha Roby submitted challenges Wednesday to the Federal Aviation Administration’s preliminary decision to close Dothan’s airport tower.
Dothan Regional Airport Director Art Morris said the authority sent a package of material to the FAA on Wednesday in advance of the deadline to appeal the FAA decision. Dothan is one of around 200 airport control towers slated for closure in April due to budget cuts brought on by sequestration. The FAA has said its decision to close the Dothan tower is based primarily on low traffic.
The FAA has also said “negative impact on the national interest is the only criterion the FAA will use for deciding to continue services to an airport that falls below the (traffic) threshold.”
Morris said the potential impact on military training is vital to the country’s national interests and represents a strong argument for remaining open. About half of all takeoffs and landings at the airport are military-related. Thousands of takeoffs and landings each year come from aircraft based at Fort Rucker as well as nearby installations in Florida and Georgia.
Roby reiterated the authority’s concerns in a Wednesday letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
“Removal of the Federal Contract Tower at the airport will profoundly limit the Army’s ability to train the next generation of aviators who we will one day call upon to defend our nation,” Roby wrote. “I understand that the FAA is operating under new budget constraints and must take action to reduce spending, but I urge you to (1) recognize the unique nature of operations at Dothan Regional Airport, (2) closely review the Appeal of Decision documents submitted by Airport Director Art Morris, and (3) reconsider your decision specific to Dothan Regional Airport given the immediate and negative impact it will have on a fundamental national interest.”
Morris also said national interests could be affected because Dothan’s airport is used as a hurricane evacuation point and/or place of safe shelter. Part of the authority’s appeal is that, in the event of an emergency evacuation that causes heavy traffic to the airport, an airport tower would allow traffic to flow more safely.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz and several city commissioners met with Roby, Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and other Alabama Congressmen this week in Washington.
“We wanted to make sure we talked to not only our congressmen and congresswoman, but others as well to let them know our story,” Schmitz said. “We want them to be advocates for us and they said they would.
“We believe we have the best national interests argument in the country,” Schmitz added.
The FAA will issue a final closure list March 18. Towers on the list must close by early April.
Follow Lance Griffin on Twitter @EagleLance