April 5, 2013 - The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that it will delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15. Last month, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these towers as part of the agency's required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration.
The control tower at Oshkosh's Wittman Regional Airport, home of EAA AirVenture, has been on the closure list since it was announced on March 22. As reported at that time, EAA expects no adverse impact on AirVenture air operations regardless of the tower's ultimate fate.
"Many of the legal actions that have emerged since the March 22 announcement questioned whether a proper safety analysis was part of the determination for tower closures," said Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of advocacy and safety. "Safety needs to be a key consideration with any broad, sweeping cutbacks in air traffic services. Certainly, the tower at Oshkosh is a good example of the need for a safety-oriented analysis."
According to the FAA news release announcing the extension, the additional time will allow the agency to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions. Extending the transition deadline will also give the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System.
"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."
As of today, approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may join the FAA's non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves. This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate that transition.
"We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
On March 22, the FAA announced that it would stop federal funding for 149 contract towers across the country. A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin this Sunday, April 7, with the control tower at Oshkosh originally scheduled to close on April 21. That phased closure process will no longer occur. Instead, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers on June 15 and will close the facilities unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower or an ultimate solution to sequestration cuts is approved by Congress and the White House.