FAA to close 149 US air­port tow­ers

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

The U.S. will close 149 air-traf­fic con­trol tow­ers run by con­trac­tors at small- and mid-sized air­ports be­gin­ning on April 7 as a re­sult of au­to­matic bud­get cuts at government agen­cies.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion spared 24 tow­ers on its orig­i­nal list of 173 sub­ject to clos­ing, it said in an e-mail yes­ter­day. All the tow­ers be­ing shut down are run by pri­vate com­pa­nies, not the government as at larger fa­cil­i­ties.

The shut­downs will be phased in over four weeks. About 750 to 1,100 con­trollers and su­per­vi­sors may lose their jobs, said Spencer Dick­er­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Alexan­dria, Vir­gini­abased Con­tract Tower As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately we are faced with a se­ries of dif­fi­cult choices that we have to make to reach the re­quired cuts un­der se­ques­tra­tion,” Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood said in an emailed state­ment.

Air­ports los­ing their tow­ers av­er­aged 54,000 flights in 2011, the most re­cent year for which FAA data are avail­able. Four had fewer than 20,000 land­ings and take­offs, ac­cord­ing to agency data.

The air­ports los­ing their tow­ers have mostly gen­eral- avi­a­tion traf­fic, with smaller amounts of char­ter and mil­i­tary flights. Of the group, 13 av­er­aged at least one air­line ar­rival and de­par­ture per day in 2011, ac­cord­ing to the FAA.

Cen­tral Illi­nois Re­gional Air­port in Bloom­ing­ton, Illi­nois, had the most air­line flights of those air­ports with 4,835, ac­cord­ing to the data. Pin­na­cle Air­lines Corp. ( PNCLQ) op­er­ates flights there un­der con­tract to Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL)

Florida is set to lose 14 tow­ers, the most of any state. They in­clude fa­cil­i­ties at Naples Mu­nic­i­pal, Boca Ra­ton and Ocala In­ter­na­tional air­ports. Texas will lose 13 and Cal­i­for­nia 11.

Among the tow­ers be­ing spared are ones at air­ports in San Car­los, Cal­i­for­nia; Jack­sonville, Florida, and Merid­ian, Mis­sis­sippi. The FAA spared the 24 fa­cil­i­ties be­cause air­port opera- tors con­vinced the agency that clos­ing them “would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the na­tional in­ter­est,” ac­cord­ing to the agency state­ment.

Planes, in­clud­ing air­lin­ers, can con­tinue to fly to air­ports with­out func­tion­ing tow­ers. Most of the roughly 5,000 U.S. pub­lic air­ports don’t have tow­ers. In­stead of be­ing guided by con­trollers, pi­lots ra­dio each other to co­or­di­nate land­ings and take­offs, ac­cord­ing to FAA pro­ce­dures.

Ad­vo­cates for pi­lots and air­ports said shut­ting the tow­ers will harm safety and im­pose eco­nomic hard­ship on busi­nesses such as flight schools that rely on con­trollers to guide planes.

“The White House does not un­der­stand the con­se­quences of th­ese ac­tions, or they do and they sim­ply do not care,” Craig Fuller, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Air­craft Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion, a Fred­er­ick, Mary­land-based ad­vo­cacy group, said at a town-hall meet­ing March 21 at DuPage Air­port in West Chicago, Illi­nois. “Ei­ther way, this ap­proach is dan­ger­ous and should not stand.”

Some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was us­ing the tower cuts for par­ti­san gain. “The FAA must ree­val­u­ate its de­ci­sion, and the White House must put an end to its po­lit­i­cal cha­rade,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Sensen­bren­ner, a Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said in a re­lease.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bill Shus­ter, a Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can who is chair­man of the House trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee, and Se­na­tor John Thune of South Dakota, the top Repub­li­can on the com­merce com­mit­tee, wrote to LaHood ask­ing for more in­for­ma­tion on the clos­ings.

FAA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Huerta told Congress Feb. 27 there wasn’t a choice on whether to shut­ter most pri­vate tow­ers. The pri­vate tower pro­gram is one of the agency’s largest con­tracts, he said.

The 15,000 con­trollers em­ployed by the FAA will be forced to take one un­paid day off ev­ery two weeks start­ing April 21, which will ag­gra­vate de­lays at some of the busiest U.S. air­ports, in­clud­ing Chicago O’Hare and At­lanta’s Harts­field- Jack­son, he said.

The FAA must cut $627 mil­lion out of its $16 bil­lion bud­get by the end of the fis­cal year on Sept. 30, Huerta said.

Dick­er­son said it was un­fair for the government to shut down more than half the 251 pri­vate tow­ers while spar­ing government-run fa­cil­i­ties. The as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sents firms that run the tow­ers.

“Con­trollers at con­tract tow­ers per­form a host of im­por­tant func­tions, in­clud­ing sep­a­rat­ing air­craft, is­su­ing safety and weather alerts, and as­sist­ing with mil­i­tary, emer­gency re­sponse, and med­i­cal flights,” Dick­er­son said.

Air­lines for Amer­ica, a Washington trade group rep­re­sent­ing large car­ri­ers, said its mem­bers have no plans to can­cel or sus­pend flights be­cause of the clo­sures, Jean Me­d­ina, the group’s spokes­woman, said in an e-mail.

Air­ports pay a por­tion of the op­er­at­ing costs at 16 pri­vate tow­ers that will re­main open through Sept. 30, and other lo­cal of­fi­cials can use that op­tion to keep their tow­ers open, ac­cord­ing to FAA rules.

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