The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday that it will close 149 air traffic control towers from April 7 due to budget constraints. The number announced is 40 fewer than the FAA originally planned to close. The cuts in service are part of the FAA's response to sequestration, as we reported in a recent story from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pa.:
The FAA says it needs to cut $600 million from its budget for the rest of the fiscal year because of sequestration. Its first target is those airports with fewer than 10,000 commercial takeoffs and landings a year, like Arnold Palmer Regional.
Five controllers work in the tower here — employees of a private company under contract to the FAA. It's these contract towers the FAA intends to close, most on April 7. It plans to close a total of 189 by the end of the fiscal year.
In its release publicizing today's decision, FAA officials acknowledged the pressure it was under from both sides — budget and public — as it came to a decision:
"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."
"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
Reuters reports that the announcement of the planned closures came in for criticism from some Republicans as both a political move and a safety concern:
Republicans have repeatedly accused the White House of exaggerating the effects of sequestration in an attempt to shift the blame for a failed budget deal to Republicans.
"We are deeply disappointed by the Administration's choice today to push ahead with its proposed contract tower closings and are concerned about potential impacts on aviation safety," said House of Representatives Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Senator John Thune, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.