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Detroit's City Airport could soon have 'elevator to nowhere'

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This control tower at City Airport could become the home of the "elevator to nowhere" unless the federal government acts. This control tower at City Airport could become the home of the "elevator to nowhere" unless the federal government acts.

For months, lawmakers did little to avoid sequester budget cuts, but after travelers complained about flight delays, Congress rushed to approve spending a quarter billion dollars to keep most air traffic controllers working.

However, ten air traffic controllers at City Airport are still facing layoffs, raising concerns about safety and government waste.  Most folks have heard of the "bridge to nowhere," that expensive Alaska span that seemed to serve little purpose.  Now, unless federal bureaucrats act fast, Detroit could soon be known as the home of the "elevator to nowhere."

Even if the streets of Detroit aren't always so friendly, the skies of the city usually are, and at times like Opening Day at Comerica Park, they can get downright crowded.

That is why we have Greg Williams.

"We're basically equated to like traffic cops," he said.

Williams is one of ten air traffic controllers keeping their eyes on the skies of the Coleman A. Young International Airport.

"We keep all of the aircraft separated," he said.

These guys in their aerial office are such a valuable asset that the feds just installed a new elevator, a new roof, new bathrooms, new carpeting and even a new air conditioning unit.  The total cost was about a half million dollars.

Now that their office is all fixed up, the feds are shutting it down, all to save a little dough as part of the sequestration budget cuts.

The tower renovations are a result of what happens when government works and plans things out.  The sequestration, that is what happens when the government has no idea what it is doing.

"It was not well thought out," said Jason Watt, who runs the airport.

But you don't need a fancy degree to size up this situation.  There are 50 takeoffs and landings every day at the airport and even more traffic created by student pilots.

"If you have a traffic intersection with no light, it kind of equates to that," Williams said.

"What happens if two planes get too close and bump each other?" I asked.

"It's an accident kind of like a car, but the difference is death," William responded.

Some blocks near the airport qualify as urban wasteland.  Others are like Maple Martin's block, tidy and well kept, and that is the way they want to keep it.

"The people in Washington don't live here.  We live here," she said.

I talked to a man that works out at Madge Park, and he is nervous even with Williams and his crew on duty.

"A lot of these planes [are] flying kind of low, kind of erratic, like they don't know which way they [are] going," he explained.

He said he has no interest in finding out what life will be like without air traffic controllers in the neighborhood.

"Whoever is in charge of this need[s] to get their act together before someone crashes into some of these... homes," he remarked.

Congress has until June 15 to save the jobs of Williams and his fellow air traffic controllers in Detroit.  If they are looking for help coming up with other places to save some dough, the fats cats and bureaucrats just might want to check in with the men who man their recently renovated control tower.

"If you had to choose between ten guys working in this tower or maybe ten less guys in Congress, what do you think is a better option for the public," I asked Williams.

"I really don't want to answer that, but I'm pretty sure you know what my answer would be," he said.

This cloud over City Airport comes with a silver lining.  Congress approved more than enough money to keep the air traffic controllers there working.  The only problem is they haven't told the FAA to use that money to keep the airport's control tower from turning into the neighborhood's latest abandoned building.

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