by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to close 149 air traffic control towers to make its sequestration budget cuts.
Prior to the implementation of the sequester, the FAA warned that the $85 billion cut to 2013 federal spending levels could result in the closing of 189 flight towers across the U.S., as well as furloughs for air traffic controllers.
The agency on Friday said it had finalized the list of closures, down to 149, that will be necessary to meet its requirement to cut $600 million from its budget to contribute to the sequester spending reduction.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the air traffic control towers.
“Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration,” LaHood continued.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the skies would remain safe after the 149 air traffic towers are closed.
“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,” Huerta said.
The FAA said the air traffic control towers would begin to close on April 7.
Republicans in Congress have accused FAA of choosing to make cuts that would have a negative impact on airline passengers to score political points.
The top Republicans on the House and Senate’s transportation committees calling the flight tower closures a “choice” that the Obama administration was making.
“We are deeply disappointed by the administration’s choice today to push ahead with its proposed contract tower closings and are concerned about potential impacts on aviation safety,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote in a letter to LaHood.
“On February 24, 2013, in an interview on Meet the Press, you promised the American people ‘One thing we never compromise on is safety’….Yet there are significant concerns regarding potential impacts to safety should you move forward with these closures, particularly at airports in busy areas of the aviation system with mixed-used operations and complex airport and airspace procedures.”
The FAA has countered the Republican argument by stating that the sequester requires it to make equal cuts across its budget. Federal agencies are required to cut about 9 percent of their total 2013 spending under the law.
The FAA said Friday that the decisions on which towers to close were based on “national interests” such as threats to national security, economic impact on multiple state and impact on interstate travel and commerce.