Southwest Georgia Regional Airport tower (April 5, 2013).
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it will delay the planned closure of 149 air traffic control towers until June 15 while it resolves multiple legal challenges.
The closures, which were set to begin as early as Sunday, were one of the most visible signs of the across-the-board federal budget cuts that kicked in March 1.
Several airports that faced the loss of their federally funded air traffic controllers questioned whether the FAA had followed its own safety procedures.
The tower at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport is among those slated for closure.
Deputy Airport Director Kenneth Johnson said the delay shouldn't impact any of the airport's day-to-day operations.
City Manager James Taylor said the decision gave the city a little more time to find out what impact the tower closure could have on the airport and the city.
"This gives us a 40-day or so or window, but we still have to do what we have to do," Taylor said. "We do appreciate the additional time, but that's all it gives us. They're going the same direction, they're just going to take a little longer to get there."
Taylor says that the city is researching options to present to the City Commission. Those options include allowing the tower to go unmanned or, alternatively, having the city take on the job of manning the tower. Local control of the tower could cost the city $500,000 a year.
"We're going to look at what we get for the money we spend and what benefit to the citizens will be," Taylor said. "Even if it operates fine (without a tower) and the flyers won't use it, it doesn't benefit us. And we're not going to do anything that jeopardizes the airport. It's too crucial a tool for economic development."
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, was among 47 members of Congress who sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta protesting the closure of the towers and asked for consideration of possible aletrnatives that would maintain some level of service in the targeted towers.
“The closure of these air traffic control towers is another example of the disastrous effects of sequestration,” Bishop said. “If the process is allowed to continue, it will have a severe impact on services to the Albany and Macon airports and potentially create a safety risk. I will continue to fight to keep these towers open and urge Congress to replace the sequester with a more sensible solution.”
Bishop's office said that the letter to the FAA listed possible alternatives to the complete closure of all contract air towers, including other ways of reducing spending that would spread the burden across all programs or requesting a reprogramming of funds from congressional appropriators. The letter also was sent to President Barack Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.