More than 25,000 planes take-off and land every year at the Capital City Airport in New Cumberland. Air traffic controllers are the pilots' second set of eyes and ears, but because of federal budget cuts, the tower will soon stand empty and pilots will have to fly solo.
The Federal Aviation Administration has decided to close the air traffic control towers at Capital City Airport and Lancaster Airport because of forced spending cuts. The two are among 149 regional airport control towers nationally that will be shuttered during a four-week, phased closure that will begin April 7.
"I think the biggest thing to recognize is that professional pilots are professional pilots. And at the end of the day, we have uncontrolled air fields all over the country," said Todd Smith, Capital City Airport's base operator. "You know, we're not gonna see planes falling out of the sky or anything like that."
But many airport officials said closing the towers is a flight risk.
"We have people here because studies were done by the FAA and DOT over the years that say we need a tower here because we're within a certain distance of HIA. We have a lot of conflicting traffic," said Smith.
At Lancaster Airport, 90,000 planes takeoff and land every year on two intersecting runways. Airport director David Eberly said losing air traffic controllers there is a ticket straight into the danger zone.
"To try to mix that as two runways that cross in the middle, we just think that's a dangerous situation," Eberly said.
The FAA promised to manage the change by reducing volume, not safety. But that will carry some baggage, like major delays during peak hours for midstaters who are flying to big cities. But airport managers said they will do their best to alleviate any turbulence.
"We're coming up with planning to ensure that everything's done properly here if we have a new environment without a control tower," said Smith.