FAA Plans to Close Control Towers Due to Sequestration

David Grizzle, Chief Operating Officer of the FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) convened a conference call this morning to discuss the FAA's timeline for responding to the mandatory sequestration budget cuts. Participating on the call were representatives of ACI-NA, AAAE, NASAO and the U.S. Contract Tower Association. Grizzle called this an "unprecedented scenario" and indicated that FAA was planning as if the new budget levels represent "the new normal" for air traffic control operations. He also stressed that FAA was attempting to "minimize the impact for the greatest number of passengers" and that this means a bigger impact on smaller communities and general aviation

FAA representatives on the call noted that 173 of the 238 towers identified for closure last week--all of which serve airports with less than 150,000 annual operations or 10,000 annual commercial operations--are slated for closure on April 7.  The 173 towers slated for the April 7 closure are Contract Towers where local cost sharing agreements are not in place. Closures of 16 additional contract towers where cost sharing agreements are in place will take place later in the year.

Walt Cochran, ATO's Vice President of Terminal Operations stated that letters would be sent to the airport operators associated with towers slated for closure today.  

Airports subject to tower closures can submit comments to FAA either electronically via closurecomments@faa.gov or fax at 202-493-4565 through March 13 regarding why it is in the "national interest" to continue air traffic control tower services to their airport. Cochran stated FAA was "unable to consider local community impacts" and the only criteria would be how the "national interest" would be impacted.  National interest was not explicitly defined during the call.

FAA will consider the comments and finalize the list of contract towers where services will be discontinued by March 18.

Grizzle noted that airports affected by these tower closures could seek to keep these facilities open as non-federal control towers (NFCTs) if local or state funding is available and added that criteria for NFCTs are described in FAA Advisory Circular 90-93aOperating Procedures for Airport Traffic Control Towers (ATCTs) that are Not Operated by, or Under Contract with, the United States (Non-federal).

The FAA is still considering closures of the remaining 49 towers on the "list of 238".  However, these are federally operated facilities and their closure requires negotiations with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.  These negotiations have not yet begun.

ACI-NA will provide additional information as it becomes available. Please contact Chris Oswald with any questions.