The 149 air traffic facilities slated to begin closing on April 7 are all staffed by contract employees who are not FAA staffers. There were 65 other facilities staffed by FAA employees on the preliminary list of towers that could be closed. A final decision on their closure will require further review, the FAA said.
The agency is also still considering eliminating overnight shifts at 72 air traffic facilities, including some at major airports like Chicago’s Midway International and General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. There was no word Friday on when a decision will come.
Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., says without ground controllers as backup, the risk to operate “goes up exponentially,” especially at airports like his, which have such a broad mix of aircraft types: everything from privately operated Piper Cubs to the larger passenger planes of United and American airlines.
His airport has an FAA-staffed tower that could be closed.
That an aviation sector as sensitive as air traffic control could become subject to political brinkmanship in Washington was especially frustrating, he said.
Hoping to escape the final cut, airport directors were left to argue with the FAA about whether the closure of their facilities would adversely affect what the agency described in a letter as the “national interest.”
After reviewing those responses, the FAA decided to keep open 24 towers, including one at the Kissimmee Gateway airport serving Orlando, Fla., and the Denver area’s Front Range airport.