|The agonizing wait continues for more than 200 small and regional airports around the country. Later this week, the Federal Aviation Administration will announce which air traffic control towers will be scheduled to shut down next month as part of $600 million in federal sequestration budget cuts required at the FAA for this fiscal year.
That announcement was supposed to be made on Monday, but it was pushed back to Friday after a huge number of appeals from targeted airports and their communities flooded in.
The FAA says most of the affected airports will remain open, with some halting operations only at night. And according to the Associated Press, pilots using those airports will be responsible for their own safety and will need to communicate with each other.
Some of those regional airports are quite busy. About 200 planes arrive and leave Easterwood Airport, outside College Station, Texas, daily. And pilot John Gil told KBTX-TV he's very concerned about not having someone manage air traffic there.
"When I came in, there were four people in front of me when I was landing and I couldn't see any of them," he said on Sunday, "so I was counting on the controller to let me know that they were there."
Trenton-Mercer Airport, one of three commercial airports in New Jersey, might also have to function with an empty control tower. Frontier Airlines began flying out of Trenton-Mercer late last year -- and several corporations, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) -- use the facility for business flights.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes says any cuts will not only affect the regional economy around Trenton-Mercer but will force the airport to operate at a slower pace due to the New Jersey area's heavy air traffic.
"It will lead to delays in the system," Hughes said in an interview with NJ.com. "We will have to rely on Philly FAA to guide planes into Trenton and then use visual flight rules. Clearly it's going to change the way we're able to use Trenton-Mercer airport and obviously they prefer to have air traffic control towers at the airport working.”
Most of the control towers expected to close are run by private contractors under the FAA's decades-old Contract Tower Program. Last month, the U.S. Contract Tower Association called on Congress and the Obama Administration to find a way around these cuts.
"The Contract Tower Program has a well-established record of success in enhancing air safety and efficiency in communities across the country in a cost-effective manner to taxpayers," association Executive Director J. Spencer Dickerson said in a press statement.
"The prospect of closing nearly 195 contract towers nationwide along with 43 FAA-staffed towers because of sequestration is inconceivable given the very real impact it would have nationwide," he added, "and yet it appears to be a real possibility."