by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Friday it will delay the closure of nearly 150 air traffic control towers after facing mounting pressure from lawmakers and airports.
The agency had identified 149 air traffic control towers it said needed to be closed this month because of the sequester, but FAA officials announced on Friday that it was pushing back the closures until June 15.
The decision is not expected to impact the FAA’s budget cuts because the agency planned to gradually close the facilities beginning on April 7.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the additional time would give the FAA improved ability to ensure the flight tower closures did not impact the safety of flying in the U.S.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” LaHood said in a statement. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
The FAA had said it needed to close the air traffic control towers to meet it obligation to cut its budget for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year by $600 million.
That announcement drew sharp criticism from lawmakers who represent districts that contain airports on the list. Additionally, several individual airports filed lawsuits to block the FAA from beginning the closures as planned.
Critics argued that the FAA did not properly study the impact of the flight tower closures, which were mostly focused on smaller regional airports, before they were announced.
Republicans in Congress have accused the FAA of trying to score political points by choosing to make cuts that would have a negative impact on airline passengers.
However, the FAA has argued the sequester mandates 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.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Friday that the agency will use the extra time produced by delaying the implementation of the flight tower closures to “continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures.”
The air traffic controller towers that have been identified for closure by the FAA are facilities where it contracts with private companies to monitor flights.