149 air traffic control towers closing due to budget cuts
The Federal Aviation Administration released a list of 149 air traffic control towers that will be shutdown due to budget cuts. (Source: CNN)
(CNN/RNN) – On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the closing of 149 air traffic control towers staffed by contractors that will begin April 7.
The agency made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest, according to an FAA news release.
"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 in the news release.
The cuts are result of sequestration – the $85 billion in spending cuts that went into effect on March 1 after Congress did not pass a budget.
The targeted airports for tower closures have 150,000 flight operations annually, and of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights, according to the Associated Press. Along with the tower closures, most of the FAA 47,000 employees, which include tower controllers, will experience furloughs.
"There's going to be close calls, there's going to be midairs, there's going to be a runway accident," said Mamie Ambrose, an air traffic controller in Frederick, MD.
Of the $1 billion that will be a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's budget cuts, $637 million will come from the FAA in fiscal year 2013.
With that amount, the contract tower program is facing a 75 percent reduction.
"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."
According to CNN, altogether, 238 towers are on the chopping block, and the FAA said it expects to cut funding to the "vast majority" of the towers.
The new air traffic control tower in Frederick, MD built with $5.3 million in stimulus money.
"Then why did they build this tower? In 2010, they said safety was an issue, and then they funded this tower. Now, it's 2013 and safety will not be affected? Which is it?" Ambrose said.
Pilots also are worried about the safety issues these closings could cause.
"It makes no sense," Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said to CNN. "Tragically something is going to happen, and then were going to review this decision and, I'm sure, roll back some of the cuts they are considering now."
The FAA said they would be willing to consider a case-by-case basis on whether or not they should close the towers in certain areas.
"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.
According to the FAA, the towers slated to close are at smaller airports with lighter traffic. It's not just private pilots in small planes who could be affected, as many of the airports are serviced by major airlines.
The cuts could also leave towers unmanned during overnight hours in some big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee.
Back in February, the FAA also released a list of airports that might close, and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood issued a warning about the cuts when the sequestration deadline loomed.
"Sequestration will have a serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and the nation's economy," LaHood said in a statement on the DOT website.
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