The air traffic control tower at the La Crosse Municipal Airport is among eight in Wisconsin listed for possible closure if sequestration takes effect.
But that won’t stop the more than 62 planes that take off and land each day, said airport manager Clint Torp.
Instead, La Crosse would become what’s known in the industry as an “uncontrolled airport,” where planes would be guided by air traffic controllers in Minneapolis until they were close, at which point pilots would communicate directly with one another.
La Crosse currently has four contracted air traffic controllers who staff the tower between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. At night, it is uncontrolled.
“Towers serve as an additional safety function,” Torp said. “We’d hate to see it closedown, but the airport would continue functioning.”
Torp said while the closure would not directly affect flights, he expects there could be system-wide delays in a system with fewer controllers.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that in the event Congress does not head off sequestration cuts by the Friday deadline, the agency is prepared to furlough all of its nearly 47,000 employees one day per pay period, eliminate overnight shifts at more than 60 air traffic control towers and to close more than 100 towers at smaller airports.
The list of towers under consideration for closure includes those in Eau Claire, Kenosha, Janesville, Oshkosh, Waukesha, and Mosinee as well as Timmerman Field in Milwaukee.
It’s not unprecedented for uncontrolled airports to serve commercial carriers, Torp said, but it would be unusual. He previously worked in Devil’s Lake, N.D., which was uncontrolled but had only two flights a day.
With just under 100,000 passengers leaving and arriving last year, La Crosse ranks sixth among Wisconsin’s eight primary airports, according to FAA data on passenger volume.
It is served by seven commercial flights daily (nine in the summer) and last year saw a total of 22,667 takeoffs and landings.
Of the state’s 12 controlled airports, only the Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee had fewer take offs and landings than La Crosse, according to FAA data.