WASHINGTON: The Federal Aviation Administration is keeping open for now the 149 control towers at small airports that were slated to close as the result of government-wide automatic spending cuts imposed by Congress.
The towers, which are operated by contractors for the FAA at low-traffic airports, had been scheduled to close June 15. They will now remain open at least through Sept. 30, the end of the federal budget year, the Transportation Department said Friday.
A bill hastily passed by Congress last month to end air-traffic controller furloughs also makes enough money available to keep the towers open, the news release said.
The bill gave the FAA authority to shift $253 million from accounts with unspent funds to keep controllers on the job.
The furloughs at all FAA-operated airport towers and air-traffic control facilities caused widespread flight delays across the country for nearly a week before Congress stepped in.
FAA officials have previously said they needed at least $200 million to eliminate the need for furloughs.
The bill didn’t require the FAA to spend the remaining funds on keeping towers at small airports open, but lawmakers said they anticipated the agency would use the money that way.
The FAA will also put $10 million toward reducing cuts and delays in its program to move from a radar-based air traffic control system to one based on satellite navigation, the statement said.
Another $11 million will go to “partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system,” the statement said.
While the decision gives the small airports a temporary reprieve, FAA officials will still be under pressure to find ways to further cut spending in next year’s budget.
The FAA’s initial decision to close the airport towers set off an intense lobbying campaign to keep them open by airport operators, the communities where the airports are located and members of Congress with an airport in their district or state.
Several lawmakers and the trade association that represents contractors who operate the towers claimed victory after Friday’s announcement.
“The broad coalition of communities, airports, air traffic controllers, aviation system users and members of Congress that has emerged in recent months united in the fight to keep contract towers open is a testament to the important role these facilities play in enhancing the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system,” J. Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association, said.