HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) –The Richmond Airport’s air traffic control tower could face a partial closure which would impact flight times and airport operations.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a plan to close the control tower from midnight to 5 a.m. during a virtual meeting with Richmond airport stakeholders on Oct. 1.
After the plan was proposed, senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine wrote a letter to the FAA director saying the partial closure could hinder airport safety. They said the commercial service airport is busy enough that there is a critical need for the control tower to remain open at all times.
“With passenger airlines and cargo aircraft taking off and landing at the Richmond Airport and maintenance crews and other workers having to be on, or crossing over, the airfield during these hours, the need to ensure safety requires that the Control Tower continue to be operational on a 24/7 basis,” the senators wrote.
The FAA is still considering stakeholder input and has not made any decisions about operating hours yet.
Warner and Kaine said they’re requesting a briefing before any action on this matter is taken.
Troy Bell, with the Richmond International Airport, echoed the senators concerns adding that closing the tower overnight could affect flights that may be delayed past midnight.
“I’ve literally seen it where we have flights scheduled to come in at 12:10-12:15,” he said.
The proposed plan would have remote air traffic controllers working from Potomac Consolidated TRACON in Faquier County. But, Bell said distant traffic control could pose challenges.
“The one thing we can’t cover from a distant control TRACON perspective is ground control,” he said.
The closure could also cut into time spent coordinating early morning flights.
Bell said the airport acts as an alternative site for flight diversions from other areas when weather conditions aren’t ideal.
“You’ve got stuff happening 24/7. There’s definite highs and lows but even during those off peak periods some very important operations, sensitive operations with a need to focus on safety happening at this field,” Bell said.
8News reached out to the FAA for comment and they said they plan to respond directly to the letter from Warner and Kaine.
A source close to the FAA said the administration is evaluating midnight-shift staffing in air traffic facilities nationwide in response to a Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General audit about facility operating hours.