WASHINGTON — Seventy-two airport towers and other air traffic control facilities that were slated to close at night due to budget cuts will get to stay open, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.
The FAA had announced earlier this year that it would eliminate midnight shifts of air traffic controllers at 69 airport towers and two regional approach control facilities in order to meet across-the-board, automatic spending cuts required by Congress.
Among the airports that were on the list to lose overnight controller staffing were Chicago’s Midway International, General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, Albuquerque International Sunport in New Mexico, and Atlantic City International in New Jersey.
The FAA announced the decision not to eliminate the shifts after a conference call with airlines and groups representing business and private pilots.
The elimination of midnight shifts at some airports was separate from the FAA’s furloughs of controllers at all the agency’s airport towers and control facilities last month. The furloughs caused widespread flight delays across the country for nearly a week before Congress hastily passed a bill giving the agency authority to use $253 million from accounts with unspent funds to “prevent reduced operations and staffing” through the Sept. 30.
FAA officials gave no reason for the decision to keep the 72 towers open at night. Most of the airports had relatively few takeoffs and landings after midnight and before controllers’ first morning shift.
The FAA also has not yet made a decision on whether it will close entirely 149 small airport towers operated under contract for the agency, officials said. The agency has given airport operators and communities where the airports are located until June 15 to work out financial arrangements to pay for air traffic controller staffing themselves.
Airports are not required to have air traffic controllers on site in order to operate. Rather, pilots use FAA procedures to coordinate takeoffs and landings amongst themselves at hundreds of small airports across the country where air traffic is light.
But local officials and lawmakers representing states and districts with towers slated for closure have protested the plan, saying businesses might be reluctant to locate in a community where the local airport wasn’t serviced by air traffic controllers.