AviationBudget cuts force the FAA to shut down 149 control towers

Published 25 March 2013

The FFA will have to cut $637 million before 30 September. It plans to do so by give 47,000 employees two week furloughs, shutting down 149 control towers, and cutting overnight shifts at seventy-two different traffic facilities. Some worry about the impact these measures will have on air travel safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its final list of air traffic control towers which will be shut down due to the sequestration-related budget cuts. The closings will start early next month, but they will not force any of the airports to close. Instead, pilots will need to coordinate takeoffs and landings by themselves over a shared radio frequency. Pilots will not have the help of ground controllers.

Huffington Potreports that while there is a  concern about the safety and financial ramifications of the control towers being shut down, the FAA said the agency will try its best to help the affected airports.

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

Airport directors, pilots, and other in the aviation industry are concerned about safety  during the most critical stages of a flight, and say that without the added safety of control towers,  dangerous situations may occur.

Pilots are trained to be able to land and takeoff planes without the help of an air or ground controllers. They are also train to watch for other aircrafts and announce their position over the radio.

“That’s what the pilot is going to have to do now,” Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association told the Huffington Post. Rinaldi’s group represents nearly 15,000 FAA-employed controllers.

“A pilot is now going to have that extra duty of making sure that everybody seems to be doing the right thing on a crowded” frequency, Rinaldi added.

Pilots will have to do that on top of flying the airplane or maneuvering it on the ground, “which is not an easy thing to do,” Rinaldi told the Post. “It’s not like driving a car.”

In addition to the traffic control closings, the FAA is also considering cutting overnight shifts at seventy-two different traffic facilities, some of which include major airports.

The FFA will have to cut $637 million before 30 September, and as a result will have to give almost 47,000 employees two week furloughs. The airports on the list for target shutdowns have less than 150,000 flight operations per year and of those operations, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

Some in the industry say that they supported the elimination of overnight shifts at facilities with very little traffic even before the sequester became a factor.

“There’s a tendency over time to have Congress direct more money to small airports than would probably be economically justified,” explained Robert Poole, an aviation analyst at the Reason Foundation.

Before the final cuts were made, airport directors were given the chance to discuss with the FAA  whether the closures would adversely affect what the agency described in a letter as the “national interest.”

In the end the FAA decided to keep twenty-four towers open.