Pilots upset over closing of HHI air traffic control tower - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Pilots upset over HHI air traffic control tower closing

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) -

Many people are worried about what's going to happen at Hilton Head Island Airport after May 5, once the air traffic control tower closes. Pilots are especially concerned.

"Safety is truly being compromised here, truly," said Mike Pianka, pilot.

It is the tower's responsibility to communicate with all of the planes flying in and out of the airport. Without a tower, it's up to the pilots to communicate with each other.

Larry Cox is a pilot instructor. He says many of  the pilots who use Hilton Head Island Airport are new pilots who are inexperienced.

"We find that a lot of problems occur with pilots being on the wrong frequency. And they think that they're transmitting and they're really not being heard by people that have different frequencies," said Cox.

Cox is lucky. His plane has a computer generated map on it, which shows him where other planes are in the sky and if they're near him. But, he said some planes don't have that.

Inexperience plus heavy fog or low visibility equals a deadly combination.

"So without that tower being there, that basically cuts the pilot out of the safety loop. It's going to be chaotic here, and safety will be compromised," said Pianka.

Hilton Head Island Airport only has one runway. Pianka says it's generally busy with both commercial and private flights, and there's even more traffic during big events like the upcoming Heritage golf tournament.

The tower will remain open until after the tournament this year.

The county is working on a plan to pay for a temporary tower during big events like that each year.

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