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149 Airport Towers Shutdown: Will Pilots Be Overburdened?

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Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shared its final list of airport control tower closures. The list is just one of the impacts of the sequester, which is forcing the FAA to trim over $600 million from its annual budget with mandatory furlough days, cuts from staff, air traffic control tower closures and upcoming cuts to the TSA and Customs & Border Patrol.

In total, 149 air traffic control towers will close on April 7 at small airports. Airports selected for these cuts have fewer than 150,000 total operations a year, and fewer than 10,000 commercial flights.

Currently, 40 percent of US flights take off from just 10 cities.

The tower closures will not result in the airports being closed. Instead, pilots will coordinate takeoff and landings over a shared radio frequency, per pilot training.  This is normal protocol for hundreds of small airports throughout the US.

These cuts are already prompting a new round of concerns. Aviation experts warn that the FAA is removing a safety measure.  Pilots in these airports now have the additional concern of making sure everyone is following protocol while simultaneously navigating an aircraft.

Earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that the cuts will be very painful for the flying public with the FAA anticipating 90-minute delays. In addition to this round of tower closures, additional staff cuts have also been discussed for overnight shifts at 72 airports, including Chicago’s Midway.  However, experts debate if these cuts are a direct result of the sequestration or if the airports did not have enough traffic to justify overnight staffing.

This week, airline industry trade group, Airlines for America, also took action by sending a legal memo arguing that the FAA should be able to complete cuts without major furloughs. It’s worried that major furloughs in air traffic control could result in 30 to 50 percent reduction of flights arriving in major airports for peek travel time or during bad weather.

For more information on the sequester, learn How Airlines Are Preparing for the Sequester and find out if The Sequester Will Cause 90-minute Flight Delays.

By Lily J. Kosner for