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US delays closure of air traffic control towers

Control tower of Whiteman airport was scheduled to close starting April 7 on March 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California
Control tower of Whiteman airport was scheduled to close starting April 7 on March 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Plans to close 149 air traffic control towers at US airports in order to comply with budget cuts have been pushed back until June 15, t

Plans to close 149 air traffic control towers at US airports in order to comply with budget cuts have been pushed back until June 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Friday.

The FAA said last month it would close the towers in a four-week period set to begin on Sunday as part of a plan to save $637 million following the sequester crisis.

However the FAA announced Friday the timetable had been changed to allow legal challenges to the closures to be resolved.

The extra time would also enable affected airports to fully digest the impact of the tower closures, a statement said.

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

"Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

The FAA and commercial airlines had previously warned that the closure of the towers could slow air traffic around the United States, especially during the busy summer season.

Most of the towers in question are based at small regional airports. All are manned by personnel employed by private contractors for the FAA, rather than for the federal agency itself.

Pilot groups have criticized the decision to close the control towers, saying it represents a threat to aviation safety in American skies.

The closures were ordered after US President Barack Obama and Congress were unable to agree deficit reduction measures, triggering the sequester, which requires the US government to slice $85 billion from its spending over the seven months that began in March.

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