Flying Blind: Sequester forces closure of 149 air traffic control towers

daa3000 was146467 Flying Blind: Sequester forces closure of 149 air traffic control towers

The towers, all of which are run by private contractors, arecurrently operating at small to mid-sized airports. The hardest hitstate will be Florida, which will have to cope with the loss of 14towers, including in Naples and Boca Raton. Following Florida isTexas, which will see 13 towers closed, and California with 11.The looming shutdowns mean over half of the 251 privately-runtowers in the US will be affected, though this round tentativelyspares government-run towers.Under constraints posed by the sequester, the FAA had to make$637 million in cuts from its $16 billion budget for the remainderof its fiscal year. The shutdowns will be spread out over afour-week period, with some 750 to 1,100 air traffic controller andsupervisory positions slated to be cut.Many of the smaller airports facing the cuts handle lightertraffic, where pilots will now be charged with personallycommunicating and coordinating with each other over a shared radiofrequency before landing.While pilots are often required to land at the country’s smallairports without the help of a control tower, critics of thelooming shutdowns mourn the loss of the additional safety layer toprevent both runway taxiing and midair collisions.After a 19-seat United Express flight landing in Quincy,Illinois collided with another turboprop aircraft in the midst oftakeoff, a Quincy airport official believed that the accident,which resulted in the deaths of all 14 passengers in both planes,could have been prevented by an air traffic control tower, APreported at the time. In the end, the National TransportationSafety Board concluded that the accident was likely due to apilot’s error in monitoring the common radio frequency. The cuts come as part of the sequester that followed a stalematelast year between the rivaling Democrats and Republicans on how tocut $1.5 trillion from the US federal budget, resulting in a seriesof “automatic” budget cuts now set to kick in under broad andarbitrary guidelines.In addition to tower closures, all 15,000 controllers currentlyemployed by the FAA will face cuts in working time, with a requiredunpaid day off every two weeks, Bloomberg reports. The policy couldwell lead to greater delays at the country’s most congestedairports.And with overnight shifts potentially up for elimination at anadditional 72 control towers, full-size aircraft operated bycommercial carriers like Delta and Southwest may be forced to landat busier airports like Chicago’s Midway without any towerassistance.Airports will have the option to independently cover theoperating costs of their towers in order to keep them running,though it seems unlikely that most will have the necessaryresources.

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Flying Blind: Sequester forces closure of 149 air traffic control towers

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