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Federal cuts will close towers at 3 Ohio airports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Budget cuts will force the shutdown of control towers at three small Ohio airports — two in Columbus and one in the Cleveland area, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

The FAA target list of towers to close includes the Ohio State University and Bolton Field airports in Columbus and the Cuyahoga County Airport in suburban Cleveland.

In all, the FAA said 149 towers run under contract for the agency will close beginning April 7 under mandated spending cuts.

Ohio State said it plans to self-fund tower operations at its airport into May to avoid service disruption to flight education students and corporate and private operators who use the airport on a regular basis.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports. Pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.

The Cleveland-area airport, owned by Cuyahoga County, has 325 corporate aircraft based there and is located near Interstates 90 and 271, a growing corporate hub.

The tower closing "is a mistake and could have serious consequences," Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said in a statement.

"Aviation experts across the county have expressed concerns about the closures' impact on safety and on overall air traffic in each surrounding community, beyond what will happen at each individual airport."

The Cleveland area also is served by the city-owned Burke Lakefront Airport, a general aviation facility located downtown, and the region's major airport, Hopkins International.

Ohio State officials say the university will continue to explore its options to continue air traffic control functions at the airport, which sees an estimated 70,000 takeoffs and landings annually.

The airport has eight controllers supporting its operations. It is used by students, state government agencies, the university's hospital, private pilots and local companies.

University officials expect to provide more details next week on their plan to pay for controllers and what it could cost, said Jennifer Cowley, an associate dean for Ohio State's College of Engineering, which oversees the airport.

The airport's air space overlaps with the larger Port Columbus International airport. Cowley said the controllers help regulate the traffic flow to make it more efficient and safe.

Closure would be "a big deal," Cowley said. "The issue is really about the volume of traffic and the types of traffic."

Bolton Field is about 15 minutes southwest of downtown Columbus and serves area businesses, private pilots and aviation enthusiasts. Most of the planes at the airport are smaller, with four to six seats. Its tower is staffed for 12 hours a day, though pilots of private planes land there 24 hours a day.

A spokeswoman for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, which operates the airport, said it was "disappointed but not surprised" by the closure.

But, spokeswoman Angie Tabor said, "These pilots are used to flying into airports that do not have a manned air traffic control tower. ... We, at least initially, don't expect any significant impacts."

She said some pilots may choose not to fly into Bolton if there's inclement weather without the assistance of controllers. They could land at Port Columbus or Rickenbacker International airports in Columbus.

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Associated Press writer Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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