Two air traffic control towers in San Diego are slated to close as part of a nationwide shutdown of 149 federal contract towers announced Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The FAA says the 149 towers – which include an air traffic control tower in Ramona and one at Brown Field Municipal Airport in Otay Mesa – will close beginning April 7 as a result of budget cuts from sequestration.
The closures will be made over a four-week period, according to the FAA. For the full list of closures, click here.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
“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,” added FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Friday.
The proposal to close dozens of air traffic towers nationwide was first announced in early March. At that time, the FAA proposed the closure of 189 towers as part of a plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration.
The Ramona tower was included in that proposal because the FAA said it is not considered crucial to national use. The 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.
Earlier this month, local fire chiefs and county supervisors gathered to voice their concerns over the control tower’s potential closure, arguing that closing it would put public safety at risk and would essentially be an invitation for disaster.
Meanwhile, Brown Field -- which is located 1.5 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border – is considered a busy general aviation airport. According to the City of San Diego’s website, the types of aircrafts that operate at Brown Field include private, corporate, charter, air ambulance, law enforcement, fire rescue, flight training, cargo, skydiving, banner towing, and airships.
The City website says the FAA has classified Brown Field as a reliever airport for San Diego International Airport. Since it opened in 1918, it has also been used extensively by the military.
Friday’s announcement from the FAA did not sit well with San Diego County Supervisor Diane Jacob.
Jacob said the 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.
Jacob told NBC 7 there are 155,000 general aviation flights out of the Ramona airport, in addition to 400 calls for service directly related to local firefighting efforts.
The FAA’s decision to close certain air traffic towers was based on national interest considerations that included significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in conjunction with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security, significant, adverse economic impact beyond the local community and significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking and financial networks.
Additional air traffic control towers that the FAA will close in California include: the Fullerton Municipal Airport tower; the Castle tower in Atwater; the Oxnard tower in Oxnard; the Riverside Municipal Airport tower; the Sacramento Executive tower; the Salinas Municipal Airport tower; the Southern California Logistics tower in Victorville; the Whiteman tower in Los Angeles; and the General William J. Fox Airfield tower in Lancaster.