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FAA Air Traffic Control Tower Closings

FAA Air Traffic Control Tower ClosingsOn March 22, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it will close 149 federal contract air traffic control towers at small- and medium-size airports in 2013. The closings are to save an estimated $33 million toward the $637 million the FAA must cut by September 30 under budget sequestration.

The FAA was set to begin a 4-week phased closing of towers on April 7, but that has been delayed until June 15. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the the delay was to give lawyers more time to review the tower closings, and give local governments a chance to find the money to keep their local towers open.

An additional 16 towers will remain open under the “cost share” program because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are also subject to sequestration, but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.

National Interest Considerations

The FAA said it would consider keeping individual towers open on a case-by-case basis, if the operators can explain why it is in the national interest to keep them open.

The FAA’s national interest considerations include:

  1. Significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security;
  2. Significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community;
  3. Significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and
  4. The extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.

The DOT claims that in addition to reviewing cases submitted by towers on the potential closure list, the DOT consulted with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and conducted operational assessments of each potential tower closure on the national air transportation system.

Some communities will elect to assume the cost of continued, on-site air traffic control services at their airport, as part of the FAA’s non-federal tower program. About 50 communities have offered to pay to keep their towers operating, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Opposing the Closures

After a handful of cities sued to block the closures, a trade group called the Contract Tower Association (CTA) filed a federal lawsuit on April 4.

The CTA stated on their website that, between now and June 15, they will attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions. They will also continue to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations.

The tower closings are a part of the sequestration ordered by the Obama administration as a means to pressure the passage of the president’s budget. If passed, President Obama’s proposed budget for the year starting October 1 would restore funding for the towers, however there is growing concern in Congress of the potential safety risk. Hearings are currently being heard on a bi-partisan bill, S687, the Protect Our Skies Act, which is co-sponsored by 32 senators.

Nontowered Airport Resources

In light of the imminent tower closings, please take some time to review the following AOPA Foundation safety resources for nontowered airports. Special thanks to AOPA President, Bruce Landsberg, for providing these timely safety resources.

Nontowered Airport Operations Refresher Webinar

Operations at Nontowered Airports Safety Advisor

“Say It Right” Radio Communication Course

Interactive Runway Safety Course

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