Cuts forcing FAA to close 5 Ga. airport towers

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Associated Press

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 6:30 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — Five air traffic control towers are slated to close in Georgia next month because of automatic federal spending cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration has announced.

Federal officials on Friday released a list of 149 contract air traffic control towers that will be affected by the spending cuts. The list includes the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, Ben Epps Airport in Athens, the Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, and McCollum Field in Kennesaw.

Federal officials say the closures are being implemented to meet a $637 million budget cut.

In a statement, American Association of Airport Executives and U.S. Contract Tower Association representatives said the closures raise safety, efficiency and economic concerns that federal officials have failed to consider.

"Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA's system of managing the nation's complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety — both at the local level and throughout the aviation system," USCTA Executive Director J. Spencer Dickerson said in a statement.

FAA administrators say the agency will work with local airports to maintain high levels of safety once the towers are closed.

"We have the obvious safety concerns of having an unmanned tower as well as the potential economic impact to our community as a result of the corporate jet traffic potentially diverting to airports with a manned tower," Kennesaw Mayor Mark Matthews said Friday.

Federal officials initially sought to close 189 air traffic control towers, but said some will remain open because of national security concerns, potential economic impacts that would stretch beyond local communities and additional factors.

"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."

The closures are scheduled to begin April 7 and will be executed over the course of four weeks.

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