The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it will close 168 air traffic towers by April 1st and another 21 on September 1st if the automatic Federal sequester budget cuts remain in place.
The sequester cuts will be technically triggered at midnight tonight.
Spencer Dickerson, the president of American Association of Airport Executives, said he is worried about air safety with all the potential shutdowns.
“Closing 168 towers in a single day, that’s no April Fool’s joke,” Dickerson said. “It’s unprecedented.”
‘The 189 facilities targeted for closing are 75 percent of the U.S. air towers staffed by controllers who work for private companies, rather than for the FAA. An affiliate of Dickerson’s Alexandria, Virginia-based trade group represents these contract towers, which were begun in 1982 as a less-expensive means of adding controllers at smaller airports.
An additional 49 towers staffed by FAA controllers are to be shut down, according a list released Feb. 22 by the agency. In all, the aviation agency has said it may close 46 percent of the 514 towers in the U.S.’
The towers were chosen because they each serve fewer than 150,000 flights and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations a year, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told Congress Feb. 27. The agency must cut $627 million in expenses by Sept. 30 if across-the-board cuts known as sequestration go into effect.
Closing a tower doesn’t mean closing an airport. Most of the roughly 5,000 U.S. public airports don’t have towers. Pilots follow long-established procedures to fly there, Bruce Landsberg, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute, said in an interview. AOPA is an advocacy group for private pilots based in Frederick, Maryland.