Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi sounds alarm over Opa-locka airport tower closure

03/09/2013 3:08 PM

03/09/2013 7:51 PM

Residents of Miami Lakes, population roughly 30,000, want to show the federal government they won’t be pushed around.

Miami Lakes mayor Michael Pizzi is urging residents to tell legislators that the proposed closure of Opa-locka Executive Airport’s control tower is unacceptable.

Pizzi called an emergency town council meeting Friday to discuss the closure of the Opa-locka tower, one of 189 flight towers the Federal Aviation Administration has scheduled for closure on April 1. The tower at Pembroke Pines’ Perry Airport is also slated for closure.

Closing the flight tower would force private pilots to navigate landings without the help of air-traffic controllers, which Pizzi says would spell disaster for the densely-populated neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

“Opa-locka Airport is not in the middle of the desert, it’s not in the plains of Texas surrounded by nothing,” he said. “There has been no greater concern for the residents, the churches, the families, the schools in Miami Lakes and the surrounding communities, than the impact of aviation so close to these areas.”

About 40 locals, including Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor and a handful of pilots, turned up at Miami Lakes Town Hall to listen and speak out against the tower closure.

Apart from safety concerns, during busy times Opa-locka acts as a relief airport for Miami International Airport, said Jim Marinitti, president of the South Florida chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Union. Commercial airlines usually won’t land at an airport with an unmanned tower.

MIA is the No. 1 international freight airport in the United States, said Opa-locka air traffic controller Ken Valentine, who received his layoff letter from the FAA a few days ago. “There is going to be a stress on the system that we’ve never seen before, and we have to be active,” he said.

Pizzi called the emergency meeting to gather comments to send to the FAA, which set a March 13 deadline for submissions. Pizzi tried to send his own comments before calling the meeting, but was met with an automated email stating officials taking the comments would be out of the office until March 25.

“You wanna talk about the federal government being out to lunch?” Pizzi asked Friday. “It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.”

In response, he called on Miami Lakes and Opa-locka residents to call and write to their representatives in Congress, and urge them to come up with a better plan to save federal dollars. Pizzi said he’d like to take a petition with 50,000 signatures to Washington, D.C.

“It is possible to cut the federal budget without putting lives in danger,” he said.

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