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Sequester May Force Closure of Local Control Tower

Barnes ANG sequesterWESTFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — The government is considering closing down a local air traffic control tower.

F-15’s fly 24-7, 365 days a year at Barnes Air National Guard Base. But come Friday when sequestration hits, that may change dramatically.

“We take this job of securing the north east air defense area very seriously and that requires a significant amount of training for our pilots,” said Major Matthew Mutti of the 104th Fighter Wing. “We fly 2 times a day and do a number of different training mission in order to maintain those currencies.”

But with budget cuts looming and the control tower at Westfield-Barnes Municipal Airport on the list of possible closures, the 104th Fighter Wing stationed here would have to make severe changes. Specifically, it would have to rely solely on Bradley International for air traffic control.

There’s also the civilian side of the equation. By closing down the tower at Barnes the issue becomes one of safety.

“You wouldn’t have the tower providing separation between aircraft,” explained Brian Barnes, Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport manager. He says there’s about 65,000 take-offs and landings every year.

But since it’s mixed use  -military and civilian – the problem comes into play with radio frequency. Each uses a different one and can’t communicate with the other.

So the tower helps keep that difference from becoming a problem between slow flying prop planes and lighting fast fighter jets.

“It’s just a better deal all around to have professional people hired to do this to help separate your aircraft because they can see so many things that the pilot may not see,” said Barnes.

And aside from those half dozen professionals facing possible furlough if the tower closes, there’s a much larger cut looming.

With about 480 fulltime workers at the base, the cuts could mean about half are let go and that ripples into the community.

“Annually we contribute about $50 million worth of economic impact on this area. That number would be decreased significantly if sequestration happened,” said Mutti.

Whether or not it does is still anyone’s guess. So for now at least, the fate of the control tower remains up in the air.

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