The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday translated the sequestration order into action with an announcement that 149 federal contract air traffic control towers will close beginning April 7.
An additional 24 towers slated for closure were given a reprieve for fear that their absence would go against the national interest. A separate set of 16 towers under the government’s “cost share” program, which were targeted for a 5 percent cut under the sequestration law, will remain open because of separate annual funding set-asides.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said, “We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports.”
The closures will unfold over four weeks, and localities are being given the option of converting the towers to a nonfederal arrangement using local funding.
Under sequestration, the FAA had been assigned cuts totaling $637 million. In March officials proposed 189 air traffic control towers under federal contract for closure. The exceptions for national security were determined by the following criteria:
- Significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Defense or Homeland Security departments;
- Significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community;
- Significant impact on multistate transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and
- The extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.
The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, in a statement released Wednesday after Senate passage of the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2013 that continued sequestration, warned that “air safety will be seriously jeopardized.” It called the closing of towers an act that is “insane, unjustified, absurd and needs to be stopped.” The federal contract towers program, it added, “has been around for almost 30 years and has been lauded by the DoT’s inspector general as highly efficient, cost effective and safe.”
The association also warned that "the rippling effect will cause confusion, serious delays and loss of revenues to local airports and the business community as a whole.”