FAA Issues Guidance on Closing Air Traffic Control Towers

A  Cessna aircraft is parked near by the air traffic control tower at the Collin County Regional Airport at McKinney Friday, March 22, 2013.

A Cessna aircraft is parked near by the air traffic control tower at the Collin County Regional Airport at McKinney Friday, March 22, 2013. Tony Gutierrez/AP

Some feds may face relocation; airports and unions push back.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday released guidance for contract air traffic control towers facing sequestration-related closures.

Companies affected by the termination of air traffic advisory services contracts will have to “determine the status of their employees,” the agency said. FAA employees working at these locations will either continue to be housed at the locations, or will be relocated, the guidance said.

The agency announced on Friday plans to shutter 149 federal contract control towers. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it was part of a series of “tough decisions” the agency had to make to reach $637 million in cuts due under the 2011 Budget Control Act. LaHood previously warned reporters during a White House press briefing in February that sequestration budget cuts “will be very painful for the flying public.”

Towers selected for shut down “did not meet the national interest screening criteria,” FAA said in the guidance released Wednesday.  The criteria included threats to national security, adverse economic effects, and possible impacts on multistate transport or banking.

FAA said shutdowns will occur in three phases: 24 towers will shut down on April 7; 46 on April 21; and the remaining 79 on May 5.

“While we regret the need to cease FAA funding of these towers, we have worked to ensure that the airport environment remains safe as we make the transition,” the guidance said.

The guidance also provided directions for airport managers on possible emergency plans, weather observation equipment and the maintenance of air traffic frequencies.

Some airport authorities are pushing back at the FAA’s order. On March 25, the Spokane Airport Board sued FAA in a move to block the planned shutdown at the city’s Felts Field airport, Bloomberg reported.  An FAA spokeswoman declined comment to Bloomberg, citing ongoing litigation.

Unions representing air traffic controllers also have sounded out against the shutdowns. Paul Rinaldi, the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement Friday that the agency’s decision would have both short-term and long-term effects.

“These towers serve other important functions – including law enforcement activity, medical transport flights, search and rescue missions, business and commerce and supporting flight schools across America,” Rinaldi said in a statement. “There will be a slow degradation of capacity and efficiency at a time when we should be focused."