The FAA's decision to shut down the air traffic control tower at the Concord Regional Airport is like "puncturing one of our lungs," according to Cabarrus County leaders.
The thousands of pilots who land at the airport each year rely on the tower to guide them to safety.
"You can imagine having the tower, one central point of control, increases the safety, the reliability, the operational efficiency," said Rick Cloutier, aviation director for the City of Concord.
In just weeks, the federal government will cut funding to the contract tower program at Concord Regional and several other airports in the Carolinas. It's part of billions of dollars in sequester cuts.
The decision leaves the fourth-largest airport in North Carolina without air traffic controllers.
"There really is no rhyme or reason why they decided to cut this program," said Cloutier.
John Cox, CEO of Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation, said safety isn't the only thing at risk.
"It punctures the lungs, it knocks the air out of your economic engine," he said.
Cox said the cuts will cripple efforts to draw commercial aviation companies and other businesses that rely on air travel to town.
"If you don't have people in the tower, that could be a big red flag for people who want to put jets in your airspace," he said.
He also said it could hurt companies already in the area, including motorsports teams that fly out of the airport hundreds of times a year for NASCAR races.
Cox said he is joining forces with the airport and others to fight the cuts. He has already started reaching out to lawmakers in Washington.
"It's a period where you have to do absolutely everything that can be done," he said.
The federal government gave Concord Regional until March 13 to appeal. The airport is also looking into other ways to fund tower operation in case the federal dollars are pulled.