FAA Postpones Tower Closures, Citing Legal Challenges

 - April 5, 2013, 4:14 PM
The FAA has postponed the planned closure of 149 contract ATC towers, including the tower at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The FAA said on Friday that it will delay the planned closure of 149 contract ATC towers by 10 weeks to June 15. The agency said that it needs time to “resolve multiple legal challenges” to the planned tower closures at smaller airports serving mainly GA and business aviation traffic.

On March 22 the FAA said that it would close the contract towers beginning this Sunday as part of its effort to reduce spending by $637 million under the federal government’s “sequester” mandate. In response, the airport board of Spokane’s Felt Field in Washington state and airport operators in several other states petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to delay the closures. On April 4, the American Association of Airport Executives and its affiliate organization, the U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA), said they, too, are challenging the closures in the appeals court.

“We appreciate the decision…to delay the imminent closure of 149 contract air traffic control towers in light of the serious and unanswered questions that have been raised by airports, aviation system users, affected communities and members of Congress,” USCTA executive director Spencer Dickerson said in response to the FAA’s decision to postpone the tower closures.

NBAA also applauded the FAA’s latest action. “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,” the association said. AOPA issued a similar statement and said the FAA’s action recognizes the role of “thousands of dedicated men and women” who staff ATC towers.

In its announcement on Friday, the FAA did not suggest that it will cancel any of the planned tower closures. Instead, the agency said that it continues to consult with airports and operators about risk-mitigation measures necessitated by the closures. It said that about 50 airport authorities and communities have indicated they may choose the alternative of funding the tower operations themselves through the FAA’s non-federal contract tower program. “This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate the transition,” the press release states.