FAA Closing 11 California Traffic Control Towers, but the Airports Can Stay Open

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Santa Monica Airport was on the preliminary closure list but survived (photo: Daniel Archuleta)


The FAA should have a fresh sample of data soon to answer a newly-arisen question. If it’s safe to fly into airports without air traffic control towers, why were they there before?

Sequester—an austerity program of unprecedented stupidity, launched by Congress on March 1—is scheduled to land in California airports, and around the nation, as early as April 7. Agreed to by Democrats and Republicans during a deficit fight, sequester threatened to indiscriminately hack $85 billion in vital government funding and services from the federal budget unless a more sane accord was reached.

That didn’t happen.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday that 149 airport towers, 11 in California, would begin closing next month. The sequester, which slices most agency budgets in the federal government, is forcing the FAA to cut $637 million by September 30. That is mostly being accomplished by periodic furloughs of its 47,000-person workforce and closure of towers at small airports.

But tower closure at these small airports doesn’t mean they will necessarily close. “We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta wrote in a statement.

Although these airports are tiny (150,000 total flight operations nationally) and handle very few commercial flights by passenger airlines (1 out of every 15), the airlines might have something to say about flying into airports where the pilots themselves are coordinating their activities on the fly, so to speak.

The tower closures could prove inconvenient, have already introduced uncertainty, pose a threat to public safety and threaten to be costly. Californians working at airports earn $7.6 billion annually, and those with jobs related to the industry make almost $23 billion. The California Airports Council estimates that a multiplier effect rippling through the state economy makes it worth $63 billion.  

But, then again, these are only small airports. They are listed below:


Airport City
Fullerton Muni  Fullerton
Castle Atwater
Oxnard Oxnard
Riverside Muni  Riverside
Ramona Ramona
Sacramento Executive  Sacramento
Brown Field Muni San Diego
Salinas Muni Salinas
Southern California Logistics Victorville
Whiteman Los Angeles
General Wm J Fox Airfield Lancaster





–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

FAA to Close 149 Air Traffic Towers under Budget Cuts, San Carlos Not on the List (by Jason Keyser, Associated Press)

Smaller Air Traffic Control Towers Anticipate Closure Due to Sequestration (by Brian Watt, KPCC)

Sequestration May Threaten California Commercial Aviation Economy (State Aviation Journal)

Economic Impact Study of California Airports (California Airports Council) (pdf)

FAA Tower Closure List (pdf)

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