Witham Field air traffic tower to close, county hopeful to absorb employees

STUART, Fla. - For Witham Field air traffic control tower manager Tim Barritt, Friday was the beginning of the end.

"We've got a skill set, but when you've been doing it this long, it's obviously a cool job," shrugged Barritt. "What are we going to do now?"

He's been on pins and needles, waiting on the Federal Aviation Administration's decision on whether or not it would halt funding for the air traffic control services for Witham Field, and 148 other regional control towers. Word came Friday afternoon that the air traffic control tower would close in a four-week phase-out beginning April 7th.

"We've got a lot of people in this community that use this airport to fly in and out of," Barritt said.

Alex Beringer with Fair Wind Air Charter said Witham Field Airport will still operate, but the additional layer of safety the tower provides will be stripped away. He said the county could suffer in the long run.

"It's going to add delays, which are going to impact us financially and economically," said Beringer. "It is going to add delays to the flying public."

The Martin County Board of County Commissioners released a statement saying it would explore options to keep the tower operational. Barritt said George Stokus, manager of the Witham Field Airport, had been trying to find a way to continue funding the tower.

Barritt said the airport could lose many jet customers who require an air traffic control tower for insurance purposes.

"Should they go elsewhere, the FBO's across the way sell less fuel," said Barritt. "Less fuel sold means less money for the airport. Maybe down the road, it won't be an enterprise fund and it would be taxpayer dollars, I don't know."

But the bottom line, in his mind, are the jobs affected, and the public's safety.

"It was rather a shock, because we know we're needed for safety," Barritt explained.

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