The nationwide shutdown of 149 federal contract air traffic control towers – including two towers in San Diego -- has been delayed, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed Friday.
On Mar. 22, the FAA announced that 149 towers, including an air traffic control tower in Ramona and one at Brown Field Municipal Airport in Otay Mesa, would close beginning Sunday, April 7, as a result of budget cuts from sequestration.
Initially, the FAA’s plan was to make the closures over a four-week period beginning this month.
However, the FAA has now delayed the closures until June 15.
According to Laura Brown with the FAA, the “delay applies to all 149 federal contract towers for which the FAA was planning to stop funding in the next couple of weeks.”
Brown said that includes the Ramona air traffic control tower, for which funding was originally scheduled to stop this weekend.
According to the FAA, the additional time will allow the agency to attempt to resolve various legal challenges associated with the closure decisions. For a full list of the towers being shut down, click here.
The FAA says they’re still reviewing appropriate risk mitigations and extending the closure deadline will give the agency and airports more time to make changes to the National Airspace System.
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement released on Friday. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
As of Friday, the FAA says about 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have expressed interest in joining the FAA’s non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves. This extra time will allow the FAA to help make those transitions as well.
Come June 15, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers and close the facilities, unless the airports decide to continue operations as a non-federal contract tower.
The Ramona tower and Brown Field tower are included on the closure list because the FAA says the towers are not considered crucial to national use.
The Ramona tower was built in 1995 after three people died when two forest service planes collided in the area. The local airfield serves as “ground zero” during San Diego’s fire season, with Cal Fire using the runway for air tankers that fight wildfires.
Last month, local fire chiefs and county supervisors voiced concern over the tower's closure, arguing that it would put public safety at risk and would essentially be an invitation for disaster.
When the closures were announced on Mar. 22, the news did not sit well with San Diego County Supervisor Diane Jacob.
Jacob told NBC 7 that keeping the tower in Ramona open is a matter of public safety, considering it’s the central hub for Cal Fire’s air resources during wildfire season.