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149 Air Traffic Control Towers Closing

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By Author: Steve Robinson
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Finding cheap fares, including cheap airplane tickets, cheap vacation packages, and discount travel packages may become increasingly difficult at select regional airports that lose their air traffic control towers as a result of forced federal spending cuts.

As a result of the sequester bill, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must cut $637 million from its budget and has decided to cut 149 air traffic control facilities in 46 states. About 1,000 jobs across the country will be lost.

These control towers are staffed by contract air traffic controllers employed by companies subcontracted by the FAA as opposed to controllers who are direct FAA employees. Contractors currently staff 250 airport towers across the country.

FAA’s initial plan was to close 189 of these towers, but narrowed the list to 149 based on “national interest.”

Factors that went into FAA’s decision as to which airport towers to close included:

• Significant threats to national security

• Major adverse economic impact beyond the impact on a local community

• Significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks

• The extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub
The sequester cuts took effect the beginning of March resulting from a 2011 budget deal. The sequester mandates cuts of $85.4 billion from the federal budget this year and even bigger cuts in subsequent years.

Although the cuts were described as “across the board” federal cuts, select divisions of the Department of Transportation (DOT) were exempted. The FAA is absorbing 60 percent of DOT’s sequester cuts even though the FAA makes up only about 20 percent of the DOT’s budget.

The closures will commence in April 7th and take four weeks to complete. Air traffic controllers warn that these closures will result in more work for pilots and could easily lead to delays.

The FAA insists that the closures will not negatively impact safety, noting that is working “with airports and operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports.”

While many small communities will lose their air traffic controllers altogether, major cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles will be unaffected.

One of the reasons only contract airports were considered in closing towers is an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the federally employed controllers, mandates a one year negotiation period, whereas there is no such restriction for subcontractors.

To further implement required cuts most of the FAA’s approximately 47,000 employees will be placed on furlough beginning in April and have to take one unpaid day off every two weeks.

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