Columbia air traffic control tower will remain open

One hundred forty-nine air traffic control towers were originally slated for closure due to FAA budget cuts.
The air traffic control tower at Columbia Regional Airport was originally slated for closure due to Federal Aviation Administration budget cuts, but will now remain open. The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the FAA to transfer funds to keep the towers originally slated for closure in June open for the rest of the fiscal year.

After being slated for closure due to Federal Aviation Administration budget cuts, 149 contract air traffic control towers will remain operational until the end of the fiscal year.

The change comes as a result of Congress enacting Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 in April. The bill allows the FAA to transfer funds to end employee furloughed and keep the towers open.

“This is very good news for air service as a whole,” Columbia Regional Airport Manager Don Elliott said in a news release. “This retains a layer of safety for the aviation industry which fits our primary goal at Columbia Regional Airport of safety.”

The funding cuts were a part of the FAA’s plan to counter budget sequestration in Washington, D.C. The FAA intended to reduce expenditures by roughly $600 million for the rest of the fiscal year.

While the bill will keep the towers open through September, no one knows what will happen in October, Columbia Public Works spokesman Steven Sapp said.

“The answer to that is that no one knows,” Sapp said. “It will be up to Congress to find a way to distribute funding or to restore FAA funding that was cut due to the sequestration.”

After FAA officials notified city staff of the possible closure, Elliott contacted Midwest Air Traffic Control and the Missouri Department of Transportation to gather costs of keeping the tower functioning and to find possible alternative funding methods for the tower.

Additionally, the FAA provided guidelines for maintaining safety in airports where towers were scheduled to close, Sapp said.

“One of the things that we learned when we thought the tower was going to be closed is that the FAA has guidelines on steps for towers to retain the safety cushion without staffed towers,” Sapp said. “It’s still not 100 percent as good as having a staffed tower, but we will continue to evaluate those guidelines in case we need to implement them in future.”

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