The FAA has released its three-part phase in period for closing federal contract towers. On April 7, 24 contract towers will close, followed by 46 on April 21, and the remaining 79 on May 5. The FAA is closing the towers based on activity levels, with the first to close having fewer than 1,000 commercial operations in fiscal year 2012. The second group had fewer than 2,500 commercial operations.
Earlier in March, AOPA President Craig Fuller warned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta that the “cuts will have unacceptable consequences for the nation and the flying community.”
Under sequestration, the FAA is being forced to cut $600 million, about 5 percent of its budget, and the Contract Tower Program is bearing the brunt, with a 75-percent cut. The FAA estimates that these tower closures will save the agency about $32.8 million in fiscal year 2013.
The cuts specifically target general aviation airports and a system that has proven more efficient than any other. As AOPA previously reported, an Office of Inspector General report released Nov. 5, 2012, pointed out that the contract towers operate at cost levels “significantly less” than comparable FAA control towers.
“The FAA contract tower program is, without question, one of the most cost-effective and successful programs in the history of the agency,” Fuller told Huerta. “Contract towers handle approximately 28 percent of all air traffic control tower operations in the United States, but account for just 14 percent of the FAA’s total tower operations budget...it is illogical to dismember this program in a budget reduction scenario.”
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) had tried to thwart the tower closures by offering an amendment to the budget continuing resolution that would have provided funding for the federal contract towers; however, the Senate passed the budget resolution without the amendment.
AOPA continues to work with the FAA to try to minimize the impact on GA pilots.