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FAA to close 149 air traffic towers; Hawaii not affected

By Jason Keyser

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:00 p.m. HST, Mar 22, 2013

CHICAGO » Under orders to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, the Federal Aviation Administration released a final list today of 149 air traffic control facilities that it will close at small airports around the country starting early next month.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers under procedures that all pilots are trained to carry out.

The plan has raised concerns since a preliminary list of facilities was released a month ago. Those worries include the impact on safety and the potential financial effect on communities that rely on airports as key economic engines for attracting businesses and tourists.

"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of non-towered airports," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said the FAA spared the Kalelaaeloa Airport tower from closure. It had been on an earlier list. But Hirono said she urged the FAA to consider the impact of closing the tower on Coast Guard operations and air safety. The Coast Guard flies out of Kalaeloa.

The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic. The changes are part of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect March 1.

All of the airports targeted for tower shutdowns have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations per year. Of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

Airport directors, pilots and others in the aviation sector have argued that stripping away an extra layer of safety during the most critical stages of flight will elevate risks and at the very least slow years of progress in making the U.S. aviation network the safest in the world.

Airlines have yet to say whether they will continue offering service to airports that lose tower staff. Any scaling back of passenger service could have major economic impact for communities.

Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., says without ground controllers as backup the risk to operate "goes up exponentially," especially at airports like his, which have such a broad mix of aircraft types: everything from privately operated Piper Cubs to the larger passenger planes of United and American airlines.

That an aviation sector as sensitive as air traffic control could become subject to political brinkmanship in Washington was especially frustrating, he said.

Hoping to escape the final cut, he and other airport directors were left to argue with the FAA about whether the closure of their facilities would adversely affect what the agency described in a letter as the "national interest."

FAA Contract Tower Closure List

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serious wrote:
Been a pilot for many, many years. Most airports don't need those people--you just go on the common frequency, announcing what you are doing and land--or takeoff. It's see and be seen. Waste of taxpayer money--but they are most likely Union.
on March 22,2013 | 10:52AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Msot? What about the ones that need them? Hey I am sure you are a good pilot but maybe there are a few guys out there with a license and an access to aircraft for whom ATC is more of a necessity.
on March 22,2013 | 11:39AM
serious wrote:
There is an Air Traffic Control cover over all airplanes. You file a flight plan they follow you. What they are talking about here are the airports with such few activities--look at the list--seriously--ever heard of them? Waste of money. Some are grass or gavel runways.
on March 22,2013 | 01:41PM
Anonymous wrote:
I wanted to be a pilot for a long time. I am 55 now so i do not think i will pursue it. I like Microsoft Flight Simulator.
on March 22,2013 | 02:04PM
entrkn wrote:
The Republican Congress and the Republican Party is committed to preserving tax breaks and tax loopholes that benefit wealthier Americans because they are more important than the closure of 149 airport control towers, 20% pay cuts to millions of middle-class Americans, our national security, our national defense, Social Security, and Medicare.
on March 22,2013 | 02:20PM
Kawipoo wrote:
You can give your money to the government. Nobody is stopping you. If you want programs everbody must pay for them not just the wealthy. You can not live beyond your means which is opposite of the liberal mantra.
on March 22,2013 | 03:46PM
serious wrote:
In all due respect, look at the locations of the airports, both political parties are effected. They are the slush--the excess spending we all are against.
on March 22,2013 | 03:48PM
carolm wrote:
It's the White House and Democrats that gave millions of dollars and F16 fighter jets to Eqypt. They rather give money to the Muslim Brotherhood than to the citizens of the United States. The dems also want to increase taxes to the middle class - see the Senate budget.
on March 22,2013 | 07:16PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
This headline is misleading since it says Hawaii will not be affected; Hawaii will in fact be affected. Yes, no tower closures, but all ATCs are taking paycuts in the form of furloughs. That has already been announced to them.
on March 22,2013 | 02:34PM
cojef wrote:
What about service? If furloughs are implemented, will the number flights be restricted and reduced, meaning airlines will have to reduce their schedules. If that is not case, then furloughs are implemented primarily for budgetary reasons. But there is big ptoblem, is air safety being jeopardized??? Not good move.
on March 22,2013 | 03:49PM
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