FAA Delays ATC Control Tower Closures

How long a reprieve do the threatened towers get?

Fullerton Airport Tower
Fullerton Airport Tower

Fond of Friday afternoon announcements, the FAA made another today, putting off the closures of nearly 150 contract control towers until June 15, 2013, more than two months down the road. The move, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was intended to do something critics of the move have been suggesting since the closures were announced: to get it right. "This has been a complex process," LaHood said in a press release, "and we need to get this right. Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

The more likely impetus for the delay were the multiple lawsuits by airport authorities and the plans by some stakeholders to take over the costs of running the towers. In the press release, the FAA said that "As of today, approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may join the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves. This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate that transition."

The Aircraft Pilots and Owners Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) both applauded the move.

The move, said AOPA president Craig Fuller, "provides the aviation community and the FAA the time it needs to properly assess this proposed budgetary action and we applaud the decision." He added that “Years of study and evaluation are spent in the determination that a single tower is warranted and today's decision will insure that policy makers take time to understand the consequences surrounding the closure of towers." Fuller added his concern for the human costs. "This announcement is welcomed for another reason. Thousands of very dedicated men and women play a vital role in the nation's air transportation system through the work they do in air traffic control towers. Today's decision also recognizes their role and the respect we have for the commitment they make and the job they do every day to ensure we fly in the safest air transportation system in the world.”

NBAA president Ed Bolen echoed Fuller's sentiments. "As we have said, air traffic control towers play an integral role in ensuring that America's aviation system remains the safest, largest and most efficient in the world, and we want to see as many towers remain open as possible. We welcome this decision from the FAA, which will give the agency time to take further input from airport officials and others, and to carefully examine all aspects involved in the closure of each tower. NBAA and the business aviation community look forward to providing additional guidance to the FAA in the coming weeks, as agency officials continue their tower-closure review process."