Staff Photo: John Bohn Incoming aircraft are shown on a monitor in the control tower at the Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field. The tower is scheduled to be closed due to federal sequestration budget cuts.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Despite a Federal Aviation Administration directive that Gwinnett County Airport's control tower will close, local pilots are encouraged by the fact that operators are still at the helm.
The postponement of the closure of 149 control towers across the country, which was set to begin a week ago, gives hope that the closures may not happen at all, airport authority member Buddy Corley said.
"We're doing what we can," Corley said of efforts to keep the tower open at the general aviation facility, one of the busiest small airports in the state. "We feel like there is a good chance it's not going to happen at all."
Corley, a retired commercial pilot, said the air traffic controllers help pilots in bad weather conditions, increasing safety at the facility.
But most of all, he said, the operations help in the county's pursuit to attract corporations to the area, giving an edge in economic development.
"You've got someone telling you over the radio where other traffic is," he said. "There are ways to do it without the tower, and there are safe ways, but there is always the unknown."
Randy Epstein, who flies a Piper Warrior out of Briscoe Field as a hobby, said he doesn't think the tower operations are necessary for safety, although he said pilots on web blogs wonder if the planned closures -- now scheduled to begin in mid-June -- will even happen.
"My belief is that if the tower closes ... then we will all do what we are trained to do," Epstein said. "While in the air, it's my job to see the traffic and be aware. ... As long as all the pilots are doing what they are trained to, I don't see that (as less safe)."
Epstein pointed out that some nearby smaller airports, like the facility in Winder, do not have an operational tower. There, pilots in training often practices take-offs and landings, communicating with other pilots on their radios in the same way the air traffic controller would.
In fact, the tower at Briscoe Field is not operational at night, yet pilots continue to fly in and out during those off-peak hours.
"I don't have a preference either way," Epstein said of taking off with a controller's help or without one. "As pilots, we are trained to deal with either situation."
Epstein, a member of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter, said pilots at Briscoe Field would be OK if the closure does go through.
"We aren't going to see planes dropping out of the sky," he said.