• Officials say extra eyes critical at local towers set to close


    GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News spoke with two people on Saturday who will be directly affected by the federal government's decision to close two local airport towers, including Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County that may close as early as April.

    The planned tower closures have sparked concerns because they take critical pressure off air traffic controllers at Atlanta-area based Hartsfield-Jackson, one of the country's busiest airports. Opponents say the loss of those extra sets of eyes will be felt.

    "It's like driving down the freeway and not knowing who's in the lane next to you," said Hank Brake, an entertainer at the Flying Machine in Lawrenceville.

    That's how Brake describes the feelings of pilots at Briscoe Field over the closure. It's one of five in Georgia and 149 nationwide that the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to shut down due to mandatory federal budget cuts.

    "The biggest issue is the safety thing and worrying about why I have to cut this as opposed to other things that we feel are less important," Brake said.

    The tower at Cobb County's McCullom Field is also set to close but Fulton County's Brown Field survived the cuts. It's now one of just 24 airports and the only one in Georgia with contract towers the government will keep funding.

    "It's extremely frustrating," said Victor Santore of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

    Air traffic controllers union leaders like Santore lobbied FAA leaders for weeks to find other ways to cut costs.

    "Dismantling the safest airspace system in the world is no way to balance the federal budget. It's a mistake," Santore said.

    For airports now facing the closures, which will begin as early as April 7, the concerns are real.

    "You never know who's (going to) run into you. You may be a safe driver. They may be a safe pilot. But if there's not somebody guiding someone, controlling, directing traffic, sometimes there's a concern," Santore said.

    Gwinnett's communications director sent Channel 2 Action News an email saying they regret the FAA's decision to close the county tower but remain committed to safe service and hope this is not a permanent or long-term situation.

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