While the government warned of annoying long lines at airports across the country as a result of the budget cuts imposed by the March 1 sequestration, things haven’t seemed too bad yet (except for the usual weather woes). But it sounds like air travel is on the way to getting more annoying, as the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s going to shut down 173 air traffic control towers at smaller airports around the country on April 7.
As the Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood noted earlier, cutbacks in air traffic control will mean fewer flights can take off per hour, which means more delays and long waits on the tarmac for planes.
CNN adds that in addition to the closures at small- and medium-size airports in the next month, a further 16 towers will close on September 30. These towers are known as contract towers, as they’re mainly staffed with contracted workers and not FAA staff.
The FAA says if operators of towers on the list make a good case for why their tower shouldn’t be closed, the agency will consider those on an individual basis.
Spenser Dickerson, head of the Contract Tower Association, isn’t happy with the news.
“We’re extremely discouraged and disappointed that the FAA is taking this action,” he told CNN. “The rest of the FAA’s budget is getting a 5% haircut; the contract towers are getting a 75% cut, because the FAA is cutting 189 of the 251 contract towers.”
“It’s hard for us to see the fairness in the budget cuts. It seems the contract tower program is taking a high, disproportionate cut. We have serious concerns about the safety, efficiency and loss of jobs in almost 150 communities across the country,” he added.
The contract towers are staffed with contractors instead of FAA employees, but they’re used quite often by the FAA to help manage about 28% of all control tower operations. The ones getting cut make up less than 6% of commercial airline operations, however. In addition to the contract towers, there are also 49 FAA-staffed towers on the list of those assigned to close.
FAA staff are affected by the sequestration cuts as well, as most of the agency’s employees will have to take one or two furlough days every two-week pay period.