Reporting Gary Nelson
MIAMI (CBSMiami) –Miami Lakes’ town council met in emergency session Friday and unanimously condemned the federal government’s scheduled closure of the air traffic control tower at busy Opa-locka airport.
“It’s criminally negligent, it’s irresponsible, it’s insane and it cannot be allowed to stand,” declared an outraged and fearful Mayor Michael Pizzi.
One flight path to the Opa-locka airport runs directly over Miami Lakes’ town hall. Flight paths to the airports three runways cross over thousands of homes and scores of schools and churches.
Pizzi said closing the airport control tower would have “an immediate impact on the lives and safety of thousands of residents.”
Opa-locka’s, and the control tower at Broward’s North Perry airport, are among 100 slated to go dark April 1st under the so-called “sequester,” or mandated across the board federal budget cuts.
Opa-locka handles some 10,000 flights a month. Dozens of companies operate out of the facility, flying jets, helicopters, charter planes and aircraft training future pilots.
Among those at the Miami Lakes town council meeting Friday was Oded Meltzer, who lives in Opa-locka and owns a sprawling apartment complex there.
“The airports are going to land and take off without supervision,” said Meltzer, who’s 500 unit apartment complex is on the approach to the airport.
With the air traffic control tower shut down, pilots will be left to fly on their own, using visual – see and be seen – flight rules.
Freddy Antolinez, owner of Endeavour Flight Training, said Friday that while some airports are candidates for visual flight rules, Opa-locka is far too busy for pilots to be left to their own devices. Antolinez noted that an airborne armada of small, slower prop-driven aircraft mix with lots of fast jets flying in and out of Opa-locka. With a large number of planes moving at such varying speeds, he said, only a staffed control tower will be able to keep them safely separated.
“Safety will be compromised,” Antolinez said, if the tower closes.
Taking a CBS4 News crew on a flight Friday, Antolinez pointed out the bee hive of activity buzzing around his plane.
The moment our plane took off, the tower alerted the pilot of a fast jet moving up on the rear of his much more slowly moving Cessna.
“Look,” he said, pointing and counting out loud. “There’s one, two, three, four, five, six…seven, aircraft within a five mile radius of us.”
“We need the tower to maintain order and safe operations at Opa-locka,” Antolinez said.
Opa-locka and North Perry airports handle upwards of a quarter million flights a year.
There has been no movement by Congress or the White House to modify the blanket budget cuts that are set take hold April 1st, April Fools’ Day.