Air traffic control towers to close due to budget cuts - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

FAA announces tower closures; Hickory, Concord on the list to be axed

WASHINGTON, DC (WBTV, CNN, RNN) -

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that it will close 149 towers across the nation as a result of sequestration, including towers at Hickory and Concord Regional Airports.

The cuts are result of sequestration – the $85 billion in spending cuts that went into effect on March 1 after Congress did not pass a budget.

The towers are slated to be closed during a 4-week period beginning April 7th.

Click here to view the full list of tower closings.

The city of Concord released a statement Friday afternoon saying that the airport would remain open with or without a tower.

"Representatives from our community who include airport customers, elected officials, and City staff made an intense effort to provide detailed information to the FAA which clearly indicates that the elimination of this funding source for the airport would be a detriment to our community and nation," the city said in a statement.

Six employees at Concord Regional will lose their jobs.

"The FAA was very shortsighted in the selection process," said Rick Cloutier, Director of the Concord Regional Airport.  "This will impact flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and cause a ripple effect all over the country."

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett worries about the impact to controllers at Charlotte Douglas.

"These air traffic controllers add a layer of safety that is especially important to the larger planes, many of which use Concord Regional Airport instead of other large airports such as Charlotte Douglas which would be effected if these planes were to go away from Concord Regional Airport and go to Charlotte it would overpower Charlotte and crowd their air space and have a ripple effect all across the United States," Padgett said.

"There's going to be close calls, there's going to be midairs, there's going to be a runway accident," said Mamie Ambrose, an air traffic controller in Frederick, MD.

Of the $1 billion that will be a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's budget cuts, $600 million will come from the FAA in fiscal year 2013.

With that amount, the contract tower program is facing a 75 percent reduction.

According to CNN, altogether, 238 towers are on the chopping block, and the FAA said it expects to cut funding to the "vast majority" of the towers.

The new air traffic control tower in Frederick, MD built with $5.3 million in stimulus money.

"Then why did they build this tower? In 2010, they said safety was an issue, and then they funded this tower. Now, it's 2013 and safety will not be affected? Which is it?" Ambrose said.

Pilots also are worried about the safety issues these closings could cause.

"It makes no sense," Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said to CNN. "Tragically something is going to happen, and then were going to review this decision and, I'm sure, roll back some of the cuts they are considering now."

The FAA said they would be willing to consider a case-by-case basis on whether or not they should close the towers in certain areas.

According to the FAA, the towers slated to close are at smaller airports with lighter traffic. It's not just private pilots in small planes who could be affected, as many of the airports are serviced by major airlines.

The cuts could also leave towers unmanned during overnight hours in some big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee.

Back in February, the FAA also released a list of airports that might close, and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood issued a warning about the cuts when the sequestration deadline loomed.

"Sequestration will have a serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and the nation's economy," LaHood said in a statement on the DOT website.

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