by Corey Hjalseth, KHQ Local News Contributor - email
Washington (CNN) -- The federal government will
close 173 air traffic control towers at small- and medium-size airports
on April 7 because of forced spending cuts, the Federal Aviation
Administration told tower operators Tuesday. It will close another 16
towers on September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Spenser Dickerson, head
of the Contract Tower Association, told CNN that FAA officials gave him
the news, capping off a five-day period in which the FAA first told
contractors they would close scores of towers, then backtracked on the
The FAA said it would
consider removing individual towers from the list on a case-by-case
basis, if the operators can explain why it is in the national interest
to keep them open, Dickerson said.
The news Tuesday, if anything, was worse than previously announced. Last Wednesday, the FAA said it would close 168 towers.
discouraged and disappointed that the FAA is taking this action,"
Dickerson said. "The rest of the FAA's budget is getting a 5% haircut;
the contract towers are getting a 75% cut, because the FAA is cutting
189 of the 251 contract towers."
"It's hard for us to see
the fairness in the budget cuts. It seems the contract tower program is
taking a high, disproportionate cut. We have serious concerns about the
safety, efficiency and loss of jobs in almost 150 communities across the
country," he said.
The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The towers are part of
the FAA's contract tower program, in which 251 towers are staffed with
contractors instead of FAA employees. Though little-known, contract
towers are widely used by the FAA to manage air traffic. Such towers
handle approximately 28% of all control tower operations, although the
towers being cut account for a little less than 6% of commercial airline
John Cozart, CEO of
Robinson Aviation Inc., which staffs contract towers in the South and
Southwestern U.S., said the decision was "not unexpected."
"I didn't think they'd
resolve it in favor of the contract tower program. I kind of expected
that they would continue on their course," he said.
Asked for his reaction, he said, "You're asking a guy who's having to lay off a ton of people because of this."
Tower closures would not
necessarily result in airport closures, because some aircraft can land
without air traffic control help, and those that need controller help
can communicate with more distant FAA facilities. But the contract tower
closings will contribute to the workload at other FAA facilities, which
simultaneously will be coping with controller furloughs.
A 2011 report by the
Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General said contract
towers cost on average $537,000 a year to operate, compared with $2
million for comparably busy FAA-staffed towers. The lower costs were
chiefly from lower staffing and salary levels at contract towers, which
had an average of six controllers, while FAA towers had 16. And a
typical contract controller near Tampa, Florida, received a base pay of
$56,000 per year, compared with a base pay ranging from $63,000 to
$85,000 a year for an FAA controller in Sarasota, Florida, the study
Dickerson said contract
towers are carrying the brunt of the cuts, despite having comparable
safety records and being more cost efficient.
But the forced spending
cuts, known as the sequestration, are also affecting FAA staff. Most of
the agency's 47,000 workers, including its 14,700 controllers, have been
told to expect one or two furlough days every two-week pay period. And
49 FAA-staffed towers are on the list of those facing possible closure.
Tuesday, June 18 2013 7:25 PM EDT2013-06-18 23:25:07 GMT
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