Control tower at the Gary Chicago International Airport Monday Feb. 25, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 5, 2013 1:41PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is delaying the closing of 149 airport control towers until mid-June in order to deal with legal challenges.
The first 24 closures had been scheduled for Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday the closures will be delayed until June 15. Trade groups representing companies that operate the towers under contract for FAA filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Washington.
The agency says about 50 airport operators and communities have also indicated they may want to pay for operation of the towers themselves, and more time is needed to work out those details.
FAA has previously said the closures are necessary to accommodate automatic spending cuts.
The FAA announced last month it would close 149 air-traffic control towers that direct flights at smaller airports across the country ones in Waukegan, Kenosha, Wisc. and Gary, Ind.
The airports range from Phoenix Goodyear airport in Arizona to Ithaca Tompkins airport in Ithaca, N.Y. Also to see their towers shut: Sacramento Executive airport in California’s state capital, St. Louis (Mo.) Regional and Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka, Kansas’ state capital.
In Illinois closures include towers at Waukegan Regional, Bloomington/Normal, Decatur, Southern Illinois and St. Louis Regional airports. In Wisconsin, clsure locations include Kenosha Regional, Southern Wisconsin Regional in Janesville, Lawrence J. Timmerman in Milwaukee and Wittman Regional in Oshkosh.
The announcement affects towers operated under contracts with FAA that have fewer than 10,000 commercial arrivals or departures and 150,000 general-aviation operations per year.
“Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA’s system of managing the nation’s complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air-traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety -- both at the local level and throughout the aviation system,” said Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association.
Despite a lack of controllers, airports could remain open with pilots communicating with each other for landing and taking off. But airport officials and controllers warned the closures would reduce safety and hurt local economies and military operations that depend on the smaller airports.