149 airport control towers will be closed in early April as a result of sequestration-related budget cuts. The list of affected towers was reduced from the initially published list of 189 possible tower closures; 40 were exempted either due to their closing having a "negative impact on the national interest" or because the necessary funding cuts were not enough to require them to be shuttered.
While all the airports will remain open, with control of the fields being handled by nearby facilities, the impact to airlines may be more significant. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta indicated that the airports will remain in service and that the Agency will work to see that they remain operational: "We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports."
Most of the towers set to close on April 7th serve general aviation airports so commercial flights will not be affected. There are a number of airport towers on the list, however, which may have an impact on airlines. Smaller operations like Branson, MO (BBG); Ithaca, New York (ITH) or New Haven, Connecticut (HVN), for example, see service from several airlines. They should be able to continue to see service in most scenarios, even without the towers staffed, thanks to support from other airports in the area.
For airports like Trenton-Mercer in New Jersey (TTN), however, the impact could be more substantial. Frontier Airlines has been growing service, both in destinations and frequencies, recently as they build a new hub operation at the facility. Losing the control tower there may see the carrier forced to change their plans. Similarly, Allegiant Air has a significant operation at Punta Gorda, Florida (PGD) where the tower will be closed.
In a statement Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted, "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."
The decision to operate flights into these airports ultimately will remain with the airlines. None have made statements yet regarding their intentions to change or keep their schedules.
The full list of airports scheduled to close can be found on the FAA’s website.
Photo credit: Airport control tower via Shutterstock