The air traffic control tower at Golden triangle Regional Airport will remain open, but ones at Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tupelo and other airports in Mississippi except Jackson and Gulfport, the Federal Aviation Administration announced today.
The closures are part of the “across-the-board” federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
A group representing air traffic control operators says the decision nationwide raises serious safety, efficiency, and economic concerns.
The U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA), an affiliate organization of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), issued the statement.
“Over the past few decades, the FAA has closed only a handful of air traffic control towers, yet the agency is now committed to closing 149 contract towers beginning on April 7,” USCTA Executive Director J. Spencer Dickerson noted. “Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA’s system of managing the nation’s complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety – both at the local level and throughout the aviation system.”
Dickerson added that “Given the breadth and scope of the closures, the FAA cannot possibly fully understand the safety impacts, the operational impacts or the immediate and long-term economic hardships this decision will have on affected airports and communities. While we understand and appreciate the challenges associated with implementing budget cuts resulting from sequestration, the decision by the Administration to disproportionately target the contract tower program represents a regrettable deviation from the role the FAA has always played as a guardian of aviation system safety.”
Earlier today, the FAA announced that in an attempt to deal with sequestration the agency will close 149 contract towers over a four week period beginning on April 7. A list of the towers slated for closure can be viewed here. The FAA determined that 24 towers previously listed for closure will remain open because of national security concerns. Additionally, the agency determined that 16 contract towers in the cost-share program will remain open until September 30. With 251 towers in the contract tower program, the closure of 149 towers represents a nearly 60 percent reduction for the program – a figure that is far in excess of the 5 percent cuts being implemented for other areas of the agency’s budget.
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. The controllers at these facilities are highly trained professionals, and their presence at control towers has been a high priority for the FAA and for local communities for decades. The Department of Transportation Inspector General has repeatedly validated the value of contract towers and the Contract Tower Program in enhancing safety, improving aviation system efficiency, and delivering cost-effective services.
Additional information on the potential contract tower closures and efforts to keep them open can be viewed at the website Save Contract Towers Now.