The FAA plans to close 149 air-traffic control towers run by contractors at small- and mid-sized airports on April 7 as a result of automatic budget cuts at government agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration spared 24 towers – including at Forbes Field in Topeka and in Garden City, Kan. – that were on its original list of 173 towers targeted for closure. The Contract Tower Association, which represents companies running the facilities, said today in an e-mail that all the towers being shut down are run by private companies, not the government.
According to a list provided by the FAA, towers at the following Kansas airports will close: Hutchinson Municipal Airport, New Century Air Center in Olathe, Manhattan Regional Airport, Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, and the Philip Billard Municipal Airport in Topeka.
Advocates for pilots and airports said shutting the towers will harm safety and impose economic hardship on businesses such as flight schools that rely on controllers to guide planes.
“The White House does not understand the consequences of these actions, or they do and they simply do not care,” Craig Fuller, president and chief executive officer of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a Frederick, Maryland-based advocacy group, said at a town-hall meeting yesterday at DuPage Airport in West Chicago, Illinois. “Either way, this approach is dangerous and should not stand.”
Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Contract Tower Association, said it was unfair for the government to shut down more than half the 251 private towers while sparing government-run facilities.
“Controllers at contract towers perform a host of important functions, including separating aircraft, issuing safety and weather alerts, and assisting with military, emergency response, and medical flights,” Dickerson said.
Planes, including airliners, can continue to fly to airports without towers. Most of the roughly 5,000 U.S. public airports don’t have towers. Instead of being guided by controllers, pilots radio each other to coordinate landings and takeoffs, according to FAA procedures.
No FAA air-traffic facilities will be shut down for at least a year, Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union, said in an e-mailed statement.
The FAA’s union contract requires that controllers get at least a year’s notice before a facility is closed, Church said. The agency Feb. 22 issued a list of 49 FAA towers that were subject to closing in addition to the private towers.
The FAA’s 15,000 controllers will be forced to take one unpaid day off every two weeks starting April 21, which will aggravate delays at some of the busiest U.S. airports, including Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, administrator Michael Huerta told Congress last month.
Contributing: Eagle business editor Julie Doll contributed to this report.