The nationwide shutdown of 149 federal contract air traffic control towers – including two towers in San Diego – has been delayed once again, this time through September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday.
LaHood released a brief statement on Friday saying that the U.S. Department of Transportation has determined there is enough money to keep the control towers at smaller airports open through at least Sept. 30.
“The recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep the 149 low activity contract towers originally slated for closure in June open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013,” the statement said.
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 on Apr. 7 as a result of budget cuts from sequestration.
Initially, the FAA’s plan was to make the closures over a four-week period, but that plan was later delayed, and closures were set for Jun. 15 instead.
At that point the FAA said the additional time would allow the agency to attempt to resolve various legal challenges associated with the closure decisions.
Now, those towers have several more months until their closure in the fall. Once Sept. 30 rolls around, as planned, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers and close the facilities.
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.
Back in March, local fire chiefs and county supervisors voiced concern over the Ramona tower’s closure, arguing that it would public safety at risk and essentially be an invitation for disaster.
In a previous interview, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the closure of the Ramona tower was bad news all around.
She 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.
On Friday, Jacob released the following statement regarding the latest delay in closure for the Ramona air traffic control tower:
“The decision to keep the Ramona Airport tower open for now is a step in the right direction, but the federal government needs to come up with a long-term budget fix. Closing the Ramona tower at the end of September would endanger our region when we need the air traffic facility the most. Many of San Diego County’s biggest and deadliest wildfires, including the 2003 and 2007 firestorms, have started in our backcountry in the fall.”
Earlier this month, the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA) released a letter addressed to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta signed by 70 mayors and leaders across the country, including Supervisor Jacob, whose communities would be affected by the tower closures. The letter highlights the vital role of these small airports to local communities. To read the full letter click here.
In addition to this latest control tower news, LaHood’s statement said the FAA will also allocate approximately $11 million to “partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.”