FAA orders new $5.7M Front Range Airport control tower to close

DENVER - It cost $5.7 million to build a control tower for the Front Range Airport, east of Denver, and now the Federal Aviation Administration wants to close it.

The FAA pitched in $4.4 million of the $5.7 million to build and enhance the tower.

The planned closure is just part of the cuts forced by the government's sequester -- forcing the FAA and other government agencies to dramatically cut operating budgets.

It is the tallest general aviation tower in the United States.

7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart learned the closure could impact much more than just airplanes.

Airport executive director Dennis Heap said Front Range is also the site of the planned Spaceport Colorado.  The initial focus of the spaceport could be a space-pilot training center, with commercial operations possibly coming later, Heap said.

Having a control tower at the airport makes the property attractive to aerospace companies who are looking to build research facilities at the airport and, in turn, bring jobs to Colorado, Heap said.

With the control tower being closed, spaceport plans are in jeopardy.

"The reason that investment is there is so we can grow the Front Range Airport to be the economy it should be," said Heap. "So if we go back in and turn the tower off, that's poor public policy in my opinion."

The FAA declined a request from 7NEWS for an interview on the tower closure but Heap said closing the tower would save the FAA about $600,000 a year

Heap said the airport was told by the FAA they would reconsider their decision to close the tower if the airport can prove it is in the national interest.  

"I think the FAA really needs to go back and take a look at that and see if instead of shutting infrastructure down, can we do some other things too," said Heap.

Planes take off and land from Front Range Airport 50,000 times a year, Heap said.  Many airports safely operate without a tower, but the safety burden is entirely on the pilots using the airport.

7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart (@MarcKMGH) was the first to break news about the control tower closure on Twitter earlier Wednesday evening.

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