Facing lawsuits, complaints and planned picket lines from air traffic controllers, the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday announced it is delaying the plan announced in March to close 149 contract airport towers as part of the agency’s $637 million in across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration.
By delaying the closures from April 7 to June 15, the FAA plans to “attempt to resolve the multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions” and continue consulting with airports and operators and review “appropriate risk mitigations,” it said in a press release.
Multiple organizations representing air traffic controllers have denounced the planned closures as a risk to airline safety and a threat to local economies at smaller feeder airports.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is our top priority.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said, “We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures.”
About 50 airport authorities and other community members have expressed interest in funding their towers locally by joining the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program, an option FAA can help accomplish, the agency said.
Ron Taylor, president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, said the announcement would not influence his group’s plan to set up picket lines April 8 in Trenton, N.J. “This is a good move, but it could be just another delay,” he told Government Executive. “They are still holding controllers hostage in limbo, and we want to see them come to their senses and put the money out.”