North Bend airport tower will close

NORTH BEND, Ore.-- The control tower at the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport is the latest victim of across the board Federal government spending cuts known as the sequester.

According to Congressman Peter Defazio's office, the closure notification was sent out Friday afternoon, and the Congressman's request to keep the tower open for safety concerns and to assist the U.S. Coast Guard with operations was denied.

The North Bend tower is just one of 149 towers that are set to close across the country. Four of the airports, including North Bend, are in Oregon. They are Portland-Troutdale, McNary Field in Salem, and Eastern Oregon Regional at Pendleton.

"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of non-towered airports," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

Kalamath Falls was originally listed on the potential closures list but was spared and not listed on the final closure list.

Operating without a tower isn't anything new for the North Bend airport.

For years, Horizon Airlines operated regular passenger service to Portland out of North Bend without a control tower.

"Basically the tower has been in existence for 5 years," said Helen Mineau, owner of Globe Travel, who has been selling airline tickets out of North Bend for more than a decade. "So previous to that, people flew in and out all the time with scheduled air service without having a tower who told them where to land where to take off where to park things like that."

In addition to four tower personnel employees losing their jobs, pilots will now have to coordinate take-offs and landings instead of having someone do it for them.

Right now, the airport is in negotiations with Skywest Airlines to offer flights from North Bend to Salt Lake City on behalf of Delta Airlines.

The airport's Executive Director Theresa Cook told KCBY News earlier this month that even though regularly scheduled service will not be impacted, an expansion of service could be hindered.

"It all depends on safety," Cook said. "If we have an incident at an airport without a working tower anywhere in the country, who knows what the consequences could be... More flights out of here will depend on whether or not an airline sees it as profitable, and also if it can be done safely."

Skywest Airlines, operating as United Express, and Seaport Airlines told the airport earlier this month that regularly scheduled commercial service will continue at the airport whether the tower stayed open or not.

This is a developing story, and KCBY News is gathering more information. Please check back later for updates and a full story.