Town wants air control tower to stay open

Miami Lakes mayor, city council worried about possible closure of airport's $12M tower

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. – A town neighboring Opa-locka Executive Airport passed a resolution Friday asking the federal government to consider keeping flight towers open there.

"This is the first time in our town's history we have had an emergency meeting," said Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.

Pizzi said he and the city council were worried about the possible closure of the airport's new $12 million air traffic control tower.

Automatic spending cuts that went into effect March 1 means the Federal Aviation Administration could lay off 12 air traffic controllers and the airport would operate without a manned tower.

"The safety issue is paramount. It is going to be dangerous without controllers, that is for sure," said air traffic controller Ken Valentine.

Pilots would have to coordinate take-offs and landings between themselves at an airport that currently handles about 500 flights a day.

"There are a lot of jets, a lot of helicopters and a lot of aircraft that require special handling and without the controllers, it just won't be possible," said Valentine.

Another reason aviation experts say this tower should not be closed is the complexity of the runways. Local 10's Todd Tongen reports there are three of them, set up in a A-to-Z formation and they have intersecting flight paths.

"Opa-locka is not in the middle of nowhere," said Pizzi. "It is in the middle of a densely populated area and the FAA and the federal government is showing an incredible lack of concern toward the public's safety."

But what really bothered the mayor was that the FAA sent the town a letter insisting it must respond with any concerns to avoid the shut down by March 13.

Pizzi said he received an out-of-the-office response.

The town drafted a resolution opposing the closing and wants to start a petition to stop it. Meanwhile, controllers inside the tower have already been warned they may not have a job on April 7.

Opa-locka Executive Airport typically handles jets during big events and controllers also handle Miami International Airport's overflow on a daily basis.

"Miami International is the number one international freight airport in the country," said Jim Marinitti, president of the Air Traffic Controllers Union. "Opa-locka does an enormous amount of business for us."

Many larger jets that fly into Opa-locka Executive Airport won't be able to because the companies that own the aircraft require their pilots to fly in and out of airports with only manned towers