FAA Closing 149 Regional Airport Control Towers, 40 Others Spared

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Washington (CNN/WIBW) -- The FAA on Friday announced it will close 149 regional airport control towers because of forced spending cuts -- sparing 40 others that the FAA had been expected to shutter.

Topeka's Forbes Field tower was removed for an initial list slated to close, however six Kansas towers failed to be saves. Those include Billard Airport and Manhattan Regional Airport.

A four-week, phased closure of the 149 control towers will begin on April 7, the FAA said.

The FAA had been expected to announce the closure of 189 low- or moderate-volume towers staffed by contractors. Before Friday's announcement, it said it would consider keeping a tower open if the airport convinces the agency it is in the "national interest" to do so.

By congressional mandate, the FAA must cut nearly $600 million from its nearly $48 billion budget this fiscal year. Because the majority of its 47,000 employees are air traffic controllers, it is impossible to cut its budget without affecting controllers, the agency says.

Once the initial list was revealed in late February, several airports made the case to keep their towers open. Sen. Jerry Moran says locations, such as Forbes and Manhattan, tried to make the point that, with the military air traffic they experienced, their operations were vital to national interests.

Forbes Field is home to the 190th Air Refueling Wing.

Statement from Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, regarding the FAA's decisions:

“The Administration’s decision to shutter these air traffic control towers is short-sighted and dangerous,” Sen. Moran said. “Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stop lights and stop signs from our roads. It is clear that this Administration is putting its top-line message, that spending cannot be cut without severe consequences, before the safety and well-being of Americans.

“Although my amendment to the CR to save the control towers and protect public safety was blocked, this fight is not over,” Sen. Moran continued. “The Contract Tower Program is one of the most efficiently-run programs in the FAA, and it should be protected from an arbitrary and unfair 75 percent cut. I will continue my work to make certain the Administration puts the safety of air travelers first, and will actively encourage the FAA reconsider its decision. I have already spoken to the Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee to seek out other avenues to protect the 149 control towers slated for closure.”

Kansas Air Traffic Control facilities that are on the final closure list include: Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka; Hutchinson Municipal in Hutchinson; New Century Air Center in Olathe; Johnson County Executive in Olathe; and Manhattan Regional in Manhattan.

The FAA removed 24 federal contract towers from the closure list that had been previously proposed for closure, including Forbes Field in Topeka and Garden City Regional in Garden City. Both airports submitted a waiver request to the FAA and were consequently removed from the closure list after it was determined their closure would have a negative impact on the national interest.

A report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under the sequestration.

Sen. Moran’s amendment is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and numerous aviation industry groups.