FAA to delay closing 149 towers

April 5, 2013 at 3:16 PM

WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The closure of 149 air traffic control towers, caused by the U.S. budget sequester, will be delayed until June, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The FAA said last month it would eliminate funding for 149 federal contract towers as part of the agency's $637 million in budget cuts under the sequester that went into effect March 1.

In a release posted on the FAA website Friday, the agency said the delay, until June 15, will allow it "to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions."

Part of the closure process involves consulting with airports and operators and reviewing risk mitigation, the FAA said. Extending the deadline will give the agency and airports more time to implement changes.

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

The FAA said last month it would begin a phased-in, four-week closure process April 7. Friday's announcement means the phased process will no longer occur, the agency said.

Instead, the agency will stop funding all 149 towers June 15, closing the facilities unless the airports decide to maintain operations as non-federal contract towers.

As of Friday, about 50 airports and others indicated they may join the FAA's non-Federal Contract Tower program and will fund tower operations themselves, the FAA said.

"We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

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