The fuss over the...umm, unavailability of services from the KDCA tower one evening last week seems to continue unabated. Oh, what to do? At present we appear to be headed toward assigning two controllers on the midnight shift whose primary responsibility will be to keep each other awake while nothing else happens for hours.
A look at the data for KDCA for last night (courtesy of FlightAware.com) is presumably typical, and revelatory. From 11:30 PM to 6:30 AM local time, there were a grand total of four arrivals:
AWI3650 CRJ2 KCMH Wed 06:23 EDT AAL1900 B738 KDFW Wed 01:00 EDT AAL1012 B738 KMIA Wed 00:33 EDT AWI3789 CRJ2 KPHL Wed 00:16 EDT DAL1438 A320 KATL Wed 00:16 EDT AAL532 B738 KORD Tue 23:41 EDT UAL628 A320 KORD Tue 23:36 EDTOf course, with the curfew in effect there were no departures during that period. We have two valuable FAA employees in the tower to manage four airplanes. This makes no sense at all.
I "grew up" in aviation flying into and out of Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR) in Stratford, CT. KBDR is a towered airport and the tower is closed from 0300Z until 1130Z the next morning. Arriving aircraft are handled by New York Approach, and released to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) where they announce their positions and intentions. It all works; nothing unusual about it.
Sarah and her friends at Potomac Consolidated TRACON (PCT, aka "Potomac Approach") are entirely capable of keeping KDCA out of trouble in the wee hours of the morning. PCT will clear one airplane at a time into the airport, and put any succeeding aircraft into a hold until the landing aircraft cancels IFR or reports itself on the ground. No problem!
From the pilot's perspective, operating into a non-towered airport in a low traffic environment is straightforward. In fact, as long as the situation is normal and expected, it may be safer than a towered field with a single sleepy controller.
To sum up:
- The tower's only function is to provide separation on the runway.
- In periods of very low traffic, TRACON is equipped to discharge that responsibility.
- The pilots just won't care.
- Ergo, closing the KDCA tower from 2400 to 0600 local time is perfectly reasonable.
Oh, come on. Think about it. The control tower has no meaningful role to play in the security aspects of the DC airspace. By the time an aircraft is told to "contact tower", there is no security issue. The integrity of the SFRA, the FRZ and the several Prohibited areas are in the hands of Potomac Approach. And they deal with that nonsense as well as any organization could.
So, Scott, how about it? Would a recommendation to close the KDCA tower in the wee hours fly?