After several aviation associations filed lawsuits against the FAA in federal court, the agency announced that it will delay the closure of 149 air traffic control towers.
In a sudden change of direction, the FAA said Friday that it will delay the previously announced closures of 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15.
The announcement comes after a barrage of lawsuits filed by associations and individual municipal airports that claim the closures violate “safety provisions in federal law.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit combined many of the lawsuits—including one filed by the U.S. Contract Tower Association and the American Association of Airport Executives, as well as lawsuits filed by airports in Bloomington, Illinois, Spokane, Washington, and Ormond Beach, Florida.
“Today’s decision is a welcome development, and we remain hopeful that DOT and FAA will find a way forward to deal with budget realities in a way that doesn’t disproportionately target contract towers, which provide immense safety benefits in a cost-effective manner,” USCTA Executive Director J. Spencer Dickerson told The Dallas Morning News.
According to the FAA, approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may join the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood 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.”
A mixed reaction to the news has come from congressional leaders, associations, and airports across the United States:
Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas: “While airports and air travelers across the country are breathing a sigh of relief, the Department of Transportation’s decision to delay the closing of air traffic control towers is not a solution. In order to protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America, Senator Richard Blumenthal will join me next week in introducing legislation that will prohibit the DOT from closing any air traffic control towers – including those that are FAA-operated.
Peter Dumont, president of the Air Traffic Control Association: “I don’t know if [filing the lawsuits is] the right way to go or not, I just know closing towers is not the right thing to do because the overarching issue is safety.”
Mike Henry, Easton/Newnam Field in Easton, Maryland: “This gives us a little more breathing room to figure something out. The can got kicked down the road, but we’ll take it.”
Royal Eccles, airport manager for Utah’s Ogden-Hinckley Airport: “This just gives us more time. Our senators and congressman now have some additional time to interface with the FAA to try and keep our tower open. Believe me, we’re doing everything we can to keep it open.”
The closures were originally slated to start April 7. The decision was based on the FAA’s sequestration implementation plan to come up with $637 million in required cuts.