WASHINGTON May 10 The Federal Aviation
Administration on Friday canceled budget-driven plans to close
149 air traffic control towers at smaller U.S. airports, two
weeks after Congress passed legislation to end air traffic
controller furloughs that had delayed flights.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said federal
officials determined the legislation gave the FAA enough
flexibility to keep funding the towers, which had been scheduled
to be shut down in June to save money.
"This victory is thanks to a bipartisan coalition of
senators and congressmen and women who came together to
demonstrate that there are more responsible ways to cut spending
than by compromising safety," Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas
Republican, said in a statement welcoming the decision.
The White House announced plans for both the furloughs and
the tower closures earlier this year to meet automatic spending
cuts required by Congress under the so-called sequestration law
aimed at reducing the U.S. budget deficit.
Congress sprang into action after the rolling FAA furloughs
caused delays at major airports across the United States.
At the time, Moran insisted the legislation also contained
flexibility for FAA to transfer funds to keep the control towers
open, but Transportation Department officials said they needed
to review it before making a decision.
Most of the United States' 5,000 publicly used airports
don't have air traffic control towers.
In addition to 292 operated by the FAA, another 251 are
operated by three private companies in public-private
partnership called the FAA Contract Tower Program.
The FAA originally planned to shut down 189 of the contract
towers. It trimmed the list to 149 in response to pressure from
lawmakers who said the closures would hurt local economies and
The targeted towers all had fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and
landings or 10,000 commercial flights per year. They cater to
corporate jets and individuals with private planes. Many also
house flight schools, serve as hubs for smaller airlines or
provide relief capacity for larger airports nearby.
The FAA will also use new funding flexibility to shift $10
million toward reducing cuts and delays in moving to a new
satellite-based air traffic control program, LaHood said.
Another $11 million will be used to partially restore
support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.