Budget cuts would ground control tower at Stennis

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - If the automatic federal budget cuts are activated Friday, the control tower at Stennis International Airport in Hancock County would close and four contract employees would be laid off.

Airport leaders admit operating an airport without an air traffic control tower would have a huge impact on operations there.

The Air Force, Marines Navy and Coast Guard depend on air traffic controllers at Stennis to get them on and off the ground safely during military training exercises. Director Bill Cotter says no tower will mean big changes.

"First and for most a safety issue. But secondly in support of jobs and industry. Military traffic will probably slow down, if not go away with the lack of controllers," said Cotter.

Without the FAA manned tower, Cotter said all corporate jets and supply flights for NASA would be sent to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport or Armstrong International in New Orleans.

"Stennis International Airport supports NASA's aircraft as they go back and forth from Houston, Texas to Cape Canaveral. Their airplanes are required to land at airports with an air traffic control tower," explained Cotter.

By closing 244 air traffic control towers and furloughing 47,000 FAA contract and federal employees, the government expects to save $600 million. But Cotter said the federal savings would cost Hancock County dearly.

"A lot of time, money and effort has gone into the development of Stennis International Airport and this would definitely be a step backward."

Six other Mississippi airports would see FAA towers closed if the budget cuts go into effect. The Gulfport Biloxi International tower would not be impacted.

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