The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has delayed a deadline to cease funding for 149 contract air traffic control towers to 15 June from 7 April.
This will allow the agency to "resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions", says the FAA. Its decision to postpone the deadline follows a suit filed by airport and control tower trade associations earlier this week against the agency over the tower closures.
"The agency continues to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations. Extending the transition deadline will give the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System," says the agency.
The FAA said on 27 March that it would cease funding for the 149 towers in three phases beginning 7 April. This phased closure will no longer occur, says the agency today. Instead, it will cease funding for all 149 towers on 15 June and close the towers unless the airports decide to continue operations as non-federal control towers.
The FAA says about 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they might join the FAA's non-federal contract tower programme and fund the tower operations themselves.
"This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate that transition," says the agency.
The tower closures are a result of $637 million in cuts to the FAA budget through its current fiscal year ending 30 September, as part of $85 billion in cuts across the US federal government budget.
On 4 April, the American Association of Airport Executives and its affiliate organisation the US Contract Tower Association (USCTA) filed a lawsuit against the FAA in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.
The two associations are requesting for the US Congress or the courts to stop the FAA from ceasing funding to the towers.
In response to the FAA's decision to delay the end of funding for the towers, AAAE president, meetings and international and executive director of USCTA J. Spencer Dickerson says the association appreciates the move.
"Today's decision is a welcome development, and we remain hopeful that DOT [Department of Transportation] and FAA will find a way forward to deal with budget realities in a way that doesn't disproportionately target contract towers, which provide immense safety benefits in a cost-effective manner." he adds.