FAA says it will delay closure of 149 air traffic control towers at small airports until June

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is delaying the closing of 149 airport control towers until mid-June in order to deal with legal challenges.

The first 24 closures had been scheduled for Sunday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday the closures will be delayed until June 15. Trade groups representing companies that operate the towers under contract for FAA filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Washington.

The agency says about 50 airport operators and communities have also indicated they may want to pay for operation of the towers themselves, and more time is needed to work out those details.

FAA has previously said the closures are necessary to accommodate automatic spending cuts.

The FAA announced last month it would close 149 air-traffic control towers that direct flights at smaller airports across the country ones in Waukegan, Kenosha, Wisc. and Gary, Ind.

The airports range from Phoenix Goodyear airport in Arizona to Ithaca Tompkins airport in Ithaca, N.Y. Also to see their towers shut: Sacramento Executive airport in California's state capital, St. Louis (Mo.) Regional and Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka, Kansas' state capital.

 

"After the FAA announced on Friday that it would delay the planned closure of 149 air traffic control towers including at Boca Raton Airport until June 15, Congresswoman Lois Frankel released the following statement:

"This is welcome news that Boca Raton Airport will have more time to find a temporary fix to avoid the closing of its control tower.  There are both safety and economic impacts at issue. Congressman Ted Deutch and I will continue to work with the Boca Raton Airport and FAA on a long-term solution."

The Boca Raton Airport is an important economic engine and its control tower plays a key role in helping ensure the safety of the planes taking off and landing at the airport and the surrounding community. The airport is two miles from the main business area and adjacent to FAU and I-95.

The estimated local annual economic impact of the airport is $154 million and this includes the direct economic impacts of the tenants and businesses at the airport and construction projects that are undertaken at the airport. The airport and businesses on the property support over 1,200 jobs.

Read Frankel Statement on FAA's Decision to Delay Closure of Boca Raton Airport Control Tower:

Airport officials have estimated it would cost $650,000 to take over tower operations at the Boca Raton Airport from the FAA. The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million from the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, resulting in the furlough of employees and closing 149 airport control towers across the country.

In Illinois closures include towers at Waukegan Regional, Bloomington/Normal, Decatur, Southern Illinois and St. Louis Regional airports. In Wisconsin, clsure locations include Kenosha Regional, Southern Wisconsin Regional in Janesville, Lawrence J. Timmerman in Milwaukee and Wittman Regional in Oshkosh.

The announcement affects towers operated under contracts with FAA that have fewer than 10,000 commercial arrivals or departures and 150,000 general-aviation operations per year.

"Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA's system of managing the nation's complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air-traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety -- both at the local level and throughout the aviation system," said Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association.

Despite a lack of controllers, airports could remain open with pilots communicating with each other for landing and taking off. But airport officials and controllers warned the closures would reduce safety and hurt local economies and military operations that depend on the smaller airports."

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