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Op/Ed: Former Gabreski Pilot Says Operations Are Safe Without A Tower

Bob Caccavalla said there is an assumption that a tower is a definitive measure of safety.

Editor's Note: The following op/ed was written by Bob Caccavalla, former owner of fixed based operations at Gabreski, in response to an article posted on Patch  reporting that if Federal "sequestrian" cuts go through, the tower at Gabreski Airport will be shut down, creating uncontrolled airspace.

I have owned an operated two successful, full service, fixed bases of operations, (FBO's.) One on Gabreski from early eighties to early 2001, which included an FAR, part 135 commercial charter operation, and an active flight school. In addition, I had the tower contract at Gabreski for a while as well.

I have always held the tower operators in a high regard, and have enjoyed their professional assistance with certain first solo flights being observed from the tower. Times are hard now. When times are good, it's nice to have a little extra.

It is my opinion as an airline transport pilot, and flight instructor, imminently familiar with this situation, the 106th Air National Guard will probably operate the tower, or operate a remote mobile tower for which their operational specifications probably call for. As for any other activities, I believe the operations can be safely conducted without the tower.

There is much confidence placed on the presence of a tower. There is a systemic flaw that provides an UN-abided belief, resulting in the assumption of a tower as a definitive measure of safety. This is not fair to the tower operators — they are not magicians and cannot predict the ramblings of some of these miscreant pilots.

However, this sense has proven to be false — constant vigilance and traffic separation is the pilot and aircrews responsibility and it is a common practice at much busier airports that do not have a tower.

The method of compiling activity at the airport is somewhat specious as well. An example of deducting the amount of activity that is claimed is listed below.

The FAA will have what is referred to as a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) informing pilots that the tower is not operating. This is not the first time the tower has been out of service and this will provide information to pilots that the "General operating Flight Rules" under Federal air regulations (Far's), listed under part 91 for flight operations in the airport area, pertaining to this airport and air traffic respectively. It it also made available to the vast other airports without towers.

To those that have concern for how Visual Flight Rules, (VFR,) and Instrument Flight Rules, (IFR,) operations are to be conducted without the tower: They are published and would still be in effect.

The Airspace category is determined by what is published in the Airport Facility Directory (AFD,) and in Charts, ect. The operating procedures are as published in Federal Air Regulations know as FAR's under Part 91 Under "General operating Flight Rules" and it is for Either VFR or IFR. The operating controlling agency's would determine its class and category accordingly. When the tower closes, day or night, it is uncontrolled. When the tower is in operations, it reverts to a class D airspace, as published by the FAA. If it stays closed it, remains uncontrolled.

As far as safety, it is the pilot and flight crews responsibility to maintain traffic separation. The key to separation and sequencing is to accurately communicate your position and intention in appropriate sequence. There are airports with more traffic than Gabreski could dream of, and there is no tower. There may be a few situations where one person in the pattern tries to turn early onto final approach ahead of a slower aircraft, or something cheap. But, by and large they get by just fine.

One matter pertaining to airports and their operations is a trend that just about all airports of more than one runway have been removed from private hands. They are now owned, and maintained by government municipalities, at the expense of taxpayers. When compared to privately owned airports of equivalent size they are a failure, as much as this should come as no surprise. There are some that would try to contest this. The airports should stay removed from the tax rolls and be allowed to be owned and operated by the industries, and/or present lease holders who know something about them. In short, "privatized" — a very dirty word to life-long bureaucrats and there respective political cohorts. But, there seems to be an issue when it comes to allowing growth and stability lately. However, it wont be long when what little money there is runs out. They will be scrambling like mice. That is after they try to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, so to speak.... Thanks Bob Caccavalla

To the person who asked where are our officials?
Officials you say... Well for one thing there are so many of them. It costs more to keep, and pay for them, and their lavish retirement, than it does to pay for the tower. I doubt you will see any of them get fer-lowed when the Air Guard provides for their operations. This claim of 75,000 transactions the tower handles? In 365 days of the year, may seem more specious. There are many days and months out here where NOTHING of any significance happens. I could die on the ramp in winter at that airport and they wont find me until late spring. Even in the warmer months, the weather goes down and operations are limited. More aircraft are being sold from this area, and fewer are coming in. Aircraft Fuel sales are at a low with the brief exception of Jet fuel sales in the warmer months. The tower closes at eleven and opens at seven. Deduct the days that the weather is down, the winter season that nothing happens, the time the tower is actually open for operation. So 75,000? Maybe they are including the deer traffic in that count. You do the math. There are many things that are gone now due to so much of what has declined in aviation over the last 35 years, and in no way do I see use better off for it. I can take the towers or leave them. Don't really care that much either way. But don't worry. Things will work out. However, they can't help but spend money. So, don't be surprised if it stays open. That's my bet.

Related Reading:

  • Gabreski Airport Tower Faces Closure
  • Gabreski Airport Manager: Air Traffic Tower Closure Creates Uncontrolled Airspace
  • Op/Ed: Residents Can Be Trained To Man Gabreski Airport Tower

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Robert Caccavalla March 01, 2013 at 07:10 PM
I'm not a former Gabreski Pilot. Things are slow but not that slow yet?

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