The Federal Aviation Administration today, March 22, 2013, issued the list of the 149 contract towers it will close over a four week period beginning on April 7, 2013, as part of the FAA’s effort to deal with the effect of sequestration. The list of the contract towers (which can be viewed here) differs a little from the list first issued by the FAA. Upon review of the more than 1,000 letters, the FAA determined that 24 contract towers should remain open due to “national security reasons,” instead of closing as was previously planned. Finally, the FAA also determined that instead of closing 16 contract towers that participate in the “cost-share program” will instead remain open until September 30, 2013, which is the end of the FAA’s fiscal year.
The sequester requires that the FAA come up with $637 million in budget cuts. As part of the FAA’s efforts to make those cuts, the FAA proposed to close 189 contract towers. See Closing Air Traffic Control Towers As A Result of the Sequester Just the Latest Chapter of Ongoing Dilemma About Little Used Air Traffic Towers. This caused a firestorm of outrage from various aviation groups as well as Congress. In fact, the House Aviation Subcommittee turned a previously scheduled hearing on the FAA’s progress on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012 into a hearing about the effect of the sequester on the FAA and the FAA’s decision to close air traffic control towers. See U.S. House’s Hearing On FAA Reform Act Turns Into Hearing On Sequester and Closing ATC Towers.
Due to the public and industry outcry, the FAA walked its position back following the hearing, stating that sponsors of the airports with towers slated for closure could request that their situation be reviewed. The FAA stated that it would only reconsider not closing control towers where it was in the “national interest.” This caused a flood of letters to the FAA, over a 1,000 by some estimates, stating how closing the airport’s air traffic control tower would be a major blow to national security. The most common complaints were that the airport was used for medical flights, to fight wildfires, used for law enforcement. However, the FAA reiterated its position that closing the air traffic control tower was NOT tantamount to closing the airport, and that it was only closing control towers at airport that were not heavily used. Based on the volume of responses it received, the FAA put off its decision on the towers it would be closing from Monday, March 18, 2013, until Friday, March 22, 2013.
In its final agency action issued today, the FAA whittled down the number from some 200 towers that were under consideration to 149, deciding to keep some contract towers open based on their significance to “national interest.” The FAA stated that it based its decision to keep towers open on several factors, whether the closure would
- create a threat to national security;
- have a significant negative economic impact extending beyond the local community;
- have a negative impact on transportation, communication, or financial networks; or
- hurt an airport that is a critical reliever for a large hub airport.
There is no word yet as to when the FAA will make its decision about closing the FAA-staffed Air Traffic Control Towers that were mentioned on the FAA’s February 22, 2013, list, (click here for a list of the FAA Staffed Air Traffic Control Towers that the FAA, on February 22, 2013, deemed “could be closed” on April 7, 2013) or when the FAA would institute the overnight closures of Air Traffic Control Towers at much larger airports.