Five Washington air traffic control towers, including those at Tacoma Narrows Airport and Olympia Regional Airport, will close early next month as the Federal Aviation Administration cuts its expenditures to cope with the federal budget sequestration.
Other Washington airports that will lose their air traffic control towers are Renton Municipal Airport, Spokane’s Felts Field and Yakima Air Terminal.
The FAA’s final list was released at noon Friday. The agency had originally proposed closing 189 control towers, but relented on 24 of those after airports nationwide appealed the proposed shutdown. Airport control towers that are closing are operated by firms contracted to provide air traffic control services by the FAA.
Those airports whose towers will remain staffed were pulled from the list because closure “would have a negative impact on the national interest,” the agency said. None of those whose death sentence was commuted were in Washington state.
Sixteen other airports where the cost of staffing the control towers is shared by the federal government and local authorities were likewise rescued. Among those was Walla Walla’s airport.
The FAA is under orders to save $637 million by the end of the federal fiscal year because of government-wide cutbacks mandated by the so-called sequestration, which went into effect when Congress couldn’t agree on budget cuts and revenue enhancements to cut the federal deficit.
The closures will not force the shutdown of any airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.
Toby Rickman, deputy director of Pierce County’s Public Works and Utilities Department, said Friday, “It’s disappointing, but at the same time we’re sure that the procedures the pilots have will ensure a safe operation of the airport. They know the procedures, they’re well-trained, and we’re confident that it is a safe airport. It is a vibrant airport. It’s growing in terms of new businesses, and it’s got a great future.”
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck issued a statement Friday that said in part, “These closures are entirely due to the recent sequestration cuts that Congress failed to replace. This is yet another example of the very real impact that sequestration is beginning to have on the South Puget Sound.
“I remain committed to replacing sequestration with a balanced approach to debt reduction that won’t harm our local economy or our military readiness. My office is also in contact with the FAA to see if there are any steps that can be taken to prevent the closure of these important components of our regional infrastructure.”
Airlines have yet to say whether they will continue offering service to airports that lose tower staff. The trade group Airlines for America said its member carriers have no plans to cancel or suspend flights as a result of the closures.Staff writer C.R. Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.