The Federal Aviation Administration decided Friday to delay until June 15 the closure of 149 federal contract airport control towers including those in Ogden and Provo. Managers at those Utah airports hope the delay could lead federal officials to reconsider and save their towers.
Closures at 24 of the airports had been scheduled for this Sunday, with others following over coming weeks. The towers in Provo and Ogden had been scheduled to close on May 5. The closures were designed to help the FAA make $637 million in budget cuts ordered under sequestration.
The FAA said the delay will give it time to attempt to resolve several legal challenges to the closures, and time to help ensure a safe transition.
"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Ray LaHood. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."
Provo airport manager Steve Gleason welcomed the delay.
"I'm relieved that they are going to take a closer look at it. I hope they will give us the opportunity to make all of the arguments of why the tower should be left open and not just the specific arguments they want to hear."
Ogden-Hinckely Airport Manager Royal Eccles also was happy to hear of the decision.
"It gives us more time also to present our case in a better way." He said his facility affects national security "because we are so close to Hill Air Force Base," and the base "is pattern flying directly over the top of our airport, separated by 500 feet. It's imperative that we keep the tower."
Eccles said Ogden is joining a lawsuit filed by several other airports with towers planned for closure. Gleason said Provo is considering joining and also is considering several other options to try to keep the tower open, including reviewing whether it can come up with money itself to pay for its operation.
The FAA is encouraging airport authorities to fund tower operations themselves, and said Friday that about 50 are considering it. The agency said the delay could help facilitate transition to self-funding.
Gleason said the FAA should reconsider the closures.
"I don't think they were taking into account the national safety hazards that would occur because of all the frequency changes, and having to reprint all of the charts and books not to mention that some airports are really busy and it makes it tough for the traffic to get in and out without a tower," Gleason said.
Eccles agreed saying, "They need to do what they require all of us to do, and that's ... to see what's safe and what's not safe. I think it was too quick." He encourages Utahns to call members of Congress to urge them to support a bill expected to be introduced in the Senate next week that would ban the FAA from closing any towers.
The FAA said it is willing to work with airport and community officials.
"We will continue outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures," FAA Adminstrator Michael Huerta said.