Did you know that there are over 15,000 public and private airports in the United States, and only 300 or so are served by the airlines? There are only 648 airport control towers in the entire nation. Therefore, there are approximately 14,000 airports without control towers. So, the question is: Does our tiny airport need a control tower?
Our airport does not have any training facilities or flight schools nor does it have on-site charter operations. Our airport is not served by the airlines or any cargo activity. We do have Grand Canyon tour operations based here but they have not negatively impacted our air traffic.
I’m far from being an aviation expert but, I’ve been a pilot since 1975 and began flying for hire in 1982 operating everything from small private propeller planes to larger DC3 transport planes and private jets. In my many years, I have flown in and out of airports with and without control towers.
Recently, I have been piloting flights in a private jet to Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska. Both of these airports are served by two airlines, Alaska and Delta, as well as countless charter aircraft and general aviation craft. These often-busy airports do not have control towers nor do they have local radar coverage similar to Boulder City.
Sitka’s airport also has a U.S. Coast Guard base and FedEx facility there. Still, no control tower.
It is important to understand how the Federal Aviation Administration determines whether or not an airfield justifies a control tower. While many factors come into play, generally, it has to do with the number of takeoffs and landings that occur on a daily basis. The current number that seems to be prevalent on a number of websites for Boulder City is 300, which is obviously inflated since there is no one that observes the daily operations in order to make an accurate count and my personal observation refutes that number.
What our city officials are using to justify the need for a tower are not factual numbers; it is “anecdotal evidence.” Look it up; it is thought provoking.
Currently and since 2003, I have flown our Cessna 210 (a single-engine prop plane) from the Boulder City airport without any issues. There has never been a midair collision at our airport, a testament to the professionalism of the many pilots who frequent our airfield. Sure, there have been a few near misses but they can and do occur at a towered airports as well.
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast is currently in every cockpit of every airplane and helicopter that operates at our airport. Mandated at the beginning of last year, all aircraft are required to have this system installed, which, in most instances, let pilots know the position of other aircraft in the area.
Another technology that nearly all turbine-powered aircraft are required to have is Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System. Both of these technologies have been invaluable tools to assist in avoiding potential midair collisions. Ask your City Council member what ADS-B or TCAS is and you will get a deer-in-the-headlights stare. You see, the average person doesn’t have the aviation knowledge to understand how pilots can safely manage a flight into and out of a nontowered airfield.
Frankly, I don’t expect them to. Aviation is a unique activity requiring communication skills and airspace knowledge as well as piloting ability. What the general public needs to understand is that nontowered airports are safe. Remember, there are over 14,000 of them that operate safely.
So, why does Boulder City need an airport tower? Traffic control is the general idea (which may or may not provide additional safety). All aircraft movement on the ground and in the air would be controlled by tower personnel, which can cause delays and additional workload for the pilot. Isn’t it interesting that we have a City Council making a decision about our airport with little or no aviation knowledge a la “anecdotal evidence”?
Why hasn’t anyone reached out to the pilot community to get their opinion on the matter? What this airport really needs is an office complex that is lease ready for a flight school, charter ops and perhaps a restaurant. Additional hangers are a must, especially for slightly larger aircraft.
The runway length is certainly not an issue for the majority of aircraft that currently operates here. Lengthening the runway will only encourage larger craft to arrive, causing noise and parking concerns.
So, do we need a tower? Maybe, maybe not. Why not have a workshop/seminar and invite the pilots that use our airport to discuss the pros and cons. Perhaps this would lead to a better understanding of what our airport requirements truly are.
The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.
G. Kevin Savord is currently a professional pilot and former small business owner. He can be reached at email@example.com.