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FAA delays closure of air traffic control towers

The delay will allow the FAA to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions.

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A Mesaba Airlines jet sits on the tarmac at the Columbia Regional Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration announced in a news release on Friday that it would delay the closure of Columbia Regional Airport's control towers.

Maneater File Photo

April 9, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration announced in a Friday news release that it would delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15.

Originally, the FAA was going to start tower closures April 7 and Columbia Regional Airport's control tower was scheduled to close May 5.

The delay will allow the FAA to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions.

Multiple stakeholders, including City Manager Mike Matthes, Mayor Bob McDavid, Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Matt McCormick and Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller, met with FAA officials in Kansas City on Sunday to discuss the air tower closure as well as airport terminal improvements.

Airport Manager Don Elliott has been contacting Midwest Air Traffic Control and the Missouri Department of Transportation to gather costs of keeping the tower functioning and find possible alternative funding methods for the tower, Columbia Public Works spokesman Steven Sapp said.

Public Works will submit a report to City Council by April 15 regarding air tower costs and possible funding solutions.

"There is potential that there could be some funding locally," Sapp said. "Everything is very preliminary so there isn't much concrete information yet."

If the tower ceases operations, flights arriving and departing from Columbia Regional Airport will receive traffic control from Mizzou Approach in Springfield. If for some reason Mizzou Approach cannot provide services, air traffic control in Kansas City will take over Columbia flights, Sapp said.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. toured Columbia Regional Airport on Friday to speak with local officials and show support for finding a solution to the air tower closure.

Blunt co-sponsored an amendment with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., that intends to stop the FAA from closing control towers.

The funding cuts are part of the FAA's sequestration implementation plan to counter budget sequestration in Washington, D.C. The FAA planned to reduce expenditures by roughly $600 million for the rest of the fiscal year.

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Article comments

April 9, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.

PlayFair3: What seems to be going unnoticed is the FAA has also furloughed all of its Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASI). Just like control towers, each of these inspectors is in place because risks were identified to exist without them. According to the FAA, ASIs are safety critical positions responsible for ensuring the airlines operate at the highest level of safety in the public interest. These are the same professionals that are (were?) supposed to make sure that 787 battery fix continues to work during actual passenger operations - not just on some workbench. The FAA says having ASIs perform inspections aboard revenue flights is in the best interests of aviation safety and the traveling public and makes a positive difference in safety. A lot of those travelers may now be asking how furloughing inspectors and slashing a program that’s in the best interest of their safety can possibly be a good idea. How indeed, especially since the potential exists for this to involve a considerable number of airline flights and ultimately passengers. Considering the total number of furlough days for all ASIs is 30,800 (2800 inspectors x 11 days), it would follow that 30,800 must also be close to the number of missed opportunities to perform en route inspections (at just 1 inspection per day). So how can this be a good idea? The answer is it can't be. Now, don’t get me wrong. The FAA has said it will focus on making safety their number one priority. But is the best way to do that really by slicing safety critical activities from a growing national airspace system for what amounts to 30,800 days of lost coverage? Incredibly, it appears this decision to furlough every ASI was not based on safety and there was no formal system analysis or risk assessment. These are methodologies, by the way, the agency is supposed to use and document when making such determinations regarding the national airspace system. No, these furloughs were simply the easiest way simple minded bureaucrats could avoid any meaningful decision making. As a frequent air traveler and one who is always happy to see an FAA inspector on board my flight, I really hope this gets fixed soon.

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