Local airports may be hit by sequestration; Sun 'N Fun still on - WFLA News Channel 8

Local airports may be hit by sequestration; Sun 'N Fun still on

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Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg is one of two airports that could be hit by budget cuts. Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg is one of two airports that could be hit by budget cuts.

Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland and Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg may both be hit by the federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The Federal Aviation Administration sent letters more than 100 airports this week, letting officials know their air traffic control towers may be closed.

"Something like this has never happened before," said Gene Conrad, airport director at Lakeland Linder.

Conrad said the airport has until March 13th to send a letter to FAA, detailing why the air tower should remain open. The tower must have some national interest to remain operational. Lakeland Linder has been used by FEMA as a logistical staging area during hurricanes. It also hosts Sun 'N Fun every year, which is one of the largest aviation events the country.

Conrad said he thinks closing air traffic control towers around the country is a safety issue.

"Our analogy that we like to use is, if you took a busy intersection in anybody's town and you pulled out all the stop lights, and the following day you just had up stop signs, that's what we're dealing with," he explained.

The possible cuts won't impact this year's Sun 'N Fun, though. Event President John Leenhouts said the FAA usually sends 50 air traffic controllers to help with the event, but he's not sure if they'll be coming this year.

"We're in a limbo area at this very moment," Leenhouts said.

But organizers are planning on ways to work around it, if needed. Leenhouts said they're already recruiting replacement air traffic controllers. So, for visitors on the ground, the show will go on.

"To the people who come here, it'll be completely transparent," Leenhouts said.

Airports with traffic control towers on the list should know my March 18th if their towers will be closed.

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