FAA extends tower closure date amid legal pressure, backlash

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WASHINGTON, 5 April 2013. Officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will delay the closures of 149 federal contract air traffic control (ATC) towers until 15 June 2013, rather than beginning their phased four-week closure process on 7 April, as originally planned.

“This additional time will allow the agency to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions,” says a spokesperson. The FAA plans to eliminate funding for 149 towers as part of the agency’s $637 million in budget cuts under sequestration.

The agency says that, as part of the tower closure implementation process, it will continue to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations. The FAA has been hotly criticized in recent weeks for failing to do so adequately prior to selecting and announcing the air traffic control tower closures.  

“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”

Extending the transition deadline will provide the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System (NAS), the spokesperson adds.

Approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders to date have indicated they may join the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves. This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate that transition.

“We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

On 22 March 2013, the FAA announced that it would stop federal funding for 149 contract towers across the country. A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin 7April. That phased closure process will no longer occur. Instead, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers on 15 June and will close the facilities unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower.

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ATC image courtesy Shutterstock.

 

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