- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday announced its final list of 149 air traffic control facilities that will close nationwide due to the automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in earlier this month.

None of the airports — all small facilities — on the list are expected to shut down when air traffic controller furloughs begin early next month. Rather, pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers under procedures pilots are trained to do.

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of non-towered airports,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

Because of the sequester cuts, the Obama administration has ordered the FAA to cut $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends after Sept. 30.


The announcement spurred Republicans to accuse the Obama administration of compromising the nation’s air safety, with Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas calling the move “shortsighted and dangerous.”

“Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stoplights and stop signs from our roads,” the Republican lawmaker said. “It is clear that this administration is putting its top-line message — that spending cannot be cut without severe consequences — before the safety and well-being of Americans.”

The top Republicans on the House and Senate transportation committees have demanded Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood explain why the FAA chose to close air traffic facilities, and not less essential services, as a way of coping with the sequester.

“Thoroughly examining all areas of potential savings and not potentially putting safety at risk is the only way to productively move forward and ensure that the FAA upholds its stated commitment to the flying public,” said Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Ranking Member John Thune of South Dakota, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania in a joint letter Friday to Mr. LaHood.

Some small airport control towers were sparred. Rep. Frederica Wilson, Florida Democrat, praised the FAA’s decision to exempt the Opa-Locka Executive Airport in her district from the shutdown, calling the facility an “economic engine for South Florida and an important site for emergency response operations in the region.”

All of the airports targeted for tower shutdowns have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations per year. Of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.