OGDEN -- Ogden-Hinckley Airport officials found out Friday their air traffic control tower won't be spared from a massive, nationwide closure implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA notified Airport Manager Royal Eccles by an emailed letter that his tower is one of 149 across the country that will close as part of an FAA effort to reduce expenditures by more than $600 million for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year.
Eccles said the announcement didn't come as much of a surprise, but it was still a hard pill to swallow.
"I assumed they would just close all of them," Eccles said. "So I was prepared for the worst, but it's still tough to take. We don't really know what's going to happen now."
The FAA's original list included towers at 189 small airports. After consulting with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and conducting assessments of each potential closure site, the FAA decided to keep 24 federal contract towers open, saying that closing any of them would have a "negative impact on the national interest."
The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the towers beginning on April 7.
An additional 16 federal contract towers funded under a cost share program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds for these towers every fiscal year, said FAA Chief Operating Officer David Gizzle.
The tower closure means Ogden's airport will become what is called an "uncontrolled airspace" airport, which means it will have no FAA-regulated air traffic control.
Along with safety concerns associated with the tower closure, city and airport officials are also worried about how it will impact the airport's commercial service and its ability to attract additional carriers.
In September, Allegiant Air, a subsidiary of the Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company, began operating commercial flights twice weekly between Mesa, Ariz., and the Ogden airport. The service has operated at 95 percent of maximum occupancy since it began.
Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said the airline is aware of the FAA announcement and is evaluating how to proceed.
But in what could be a piece of good news for the future of commercial air service in Ogden, Allegiant recently announced it would begin service to San Francisco from the Provo Airport, whose tower is also being closed by the FAA. The announcement was made after Provo was listed as a candidate for closure.
Both Eccles and Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell have said the city and the airport would explore other avenues to man the tower, although most of those options will come at the city's expense. On Friday, Eccles said he wasn't prepared to discuss the specifics of plans to keep the tower manned.
Gizzle said impacted airports can elect to participate in the FAA's non-federal tower program and assume the cost of continued, on-site air traffic control services at their airport. The FAA is "committed to facilitating" such a transition, according to Gizzle.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who sent a formal letter requesting the FAA keep the Ogden tower open, said he's disappointed by the decision.
Bishop said the Ogden tower helps facilitate air traffic in one of the nation's premier air defense training areas, the Utah Test and Training Range.
"I recognize that we have to make cuts in order to better prioritize federal spending," Bishop said. "And in many instances, I support the cuts, just not those that interfere with our national defense capabilities."
A total of 189 towers were on the FAA"s original closure list.