Airport Tower In Race With Commission News/Editorial

By Jon A. Brake

The race is on for the $1 million Airport Control Tower. The race is to see if it can be built before the City Commission can approve it.

Tuesday night the City Commission approved an amendment to a contract with Midwest Air traffic Control Services to increase the lease by six months and increase the cost from $105,000 to $109,800.

The Commission has not approved a new Control Tower but if you read the Airport Advisory Board minutes in this issue of the Free Press you will find that it is all but built. The Minutes read: "Air Traffic Control Tower

* The Request for Proposals goes out today to construct the tower and lease it back to the City until funds become available to purchase the tower.

* The tower will be built this year and purchased from the Lessor in 2004."

Here is part of a memo given to the Commission:


The air traffic control tower at Manhattan Regional Airport has been in operation since 1989. It operates seven days a week from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Midwest Air Traffic Control (ATC) Services, Inc., based in Olathe, Kansas, has provided the control tower facility, and it serves as the contractor for air traffic control services. Two air traffic controllers are employed in the Manhattan facility. This facility is known as a non-Federal Contract Tower in the air traffic control industry, and it has operated without an air traffic control incident during the past 12 years.

The primary functions of the air traffic control tower are to safely separate air traffic within five miles of the airport, control aircraft and vehicles operating on runways and taxiways, and it provides information on request to pilots within radio range of the control tower. The air traffic controllers in Manhattan also augment the automated surface observation system on the airport to maintain the flow of weather information to aviators and the National Weather Service. The air traffic control tower at Manhattan is not radar equipped. However, the Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center routinely "hands-off" aircraft operating under instrument flight rules to the Manhattan facility for final approach and landing.

The presence of the air traffic control tower not only enhances aviation safety, but it has allowed air carrier and corporate aircraft to operate at the Airport unimpeded. Many of these aircraft would not be able to use Manhattan Regional Airport for insurance reasons without the presence of a control tower. The Midwest ATC controllers work overtime when requested to support "after hours" jet charters. These charters support Fort Riley and Kansas State University. Since 1998, air traffic at the Airport has increased substantially, and the fleet mix using the Airport has moved towards higher performance aircraft.

Another positive associated with the Manhattan facility is the existence of controlled airspace around the airport. Because Manhattan has an operational air traffic control tower, the airspace within a five-mile radius of the airport is considered controlled airspace. Controlled airspace enhances safety.

When the air traffic control tower is closed, pilots are required to report their positions relative to the Airport both in the air and on the ground. These reports assist pilots as they maintain visual separation from one another. This kind of activity is considered uncontrolled, because there is no air traffic controller present to act in that capacity. This practice is legal, safe, and effective when the air traffic is relatively light.

On December 19, 2000, the City Commission approved an amendment to the original services agreement (see Enclosure 1) between the City and Midwest Air Traffic Control Services (ATC), Inc. The current services agreement amendment is scheduled to end on June 30, 2001. This amendment was sought to give the City time to develop a plan for replacement of the existing ATCT facility. Midwest ATC had notified the City that their existing facility at Manhattan would require replacement in the near future