The FAA on March 22 announced the 149 federal contract towers that will be closing as a result of sequestration. The impacted towers will close over a four-week period beginning April 7. The agency has not yet released the specific dates of closures but has said it will release more information over the coming weeks. According to the FAA, of the 189 federal contract towers initially considered for closure, 24 will remain open, as well as 16 FAA contract tower cost share sites that must remain open because they receive some congressional funds.
“AOPA is extremely disappointed that the Federal Aviation Administration has taken the unnecessary and unprecedented step of closing a third of the nation’s 515 air traffic control towers, some of them newly built at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. This is no time for politics. These towers were put into operation to ensure aviation safety. By closing them, the same organization responsible for ensuring the safety of our skies is compromising that safety,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “Despite these cuts, pilots in the United States are highly-trained and extremely conscientious. They operate safely every day from airports without control towers. They are well-accustomed to flying at such facilities and will proceed accordingly.”
The FAA had originally proposed to close 189 contract towers in an effort to meet than $637 million in budget cuts required by sequestration. However, the agency decided to keep some contract towers open based on their significance to national interest. The FAA said it opted to keep towers open in cases that their closures would create a threat to national security; have a significant negative economic impact extending beyond the local community; have a negative impact on transportation, communication, or financial networks; or hurt an airport that is a critical reliever for a large hub airport.
“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,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a press release March 22.
One of the towers slated for closure is at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Fla., home to Sun ’n Fun. The show, often considered a spring break for pilots, is scheduled to start April 8, one day after contract towers across the country will begin closing. Sun ’n Fun President John “Lites” Leenhouts issued a statement shortly after the FAA released its lists of cuts, stating that FAA air traffic controllers would ensure “safe and expeditious handling of all arrivals and departures at Lakeland Linder Airport“ during the show, April 8 through 15.
With the looming tower closures, AOPA encourages pilots who primarily operate at airports with ATC towers to refresh their knowledge of operations at nontowered airports. The Air Safety Institute’s “ Operations at Nontowered Airports” Safety Advisor offers handy tips on right-of-way procedures, traffic patterns, collision avoidance, nonstandard flight operations at airports with helicopter, gliders, and parachutists, and more. An online safety quiz on nontowered operations is also available for pilots to put their knowledge to the test.