The good news came down Friday afternoon — and a cheer went up at the Frederick Municipal Airport, which was slated to lose its recently opened control tower in just over a month. But once again, the reprieve could only be temporary.
After months of sequester-related wrangling, FAA officials announced that 149 contract towers that had been slated to be shut down June 15 would be spared as part of a legislative deal that also ended air traffic controller furloughs.
“We are grateful that the leaders of DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration have moved to utilize the clear authority provided by the Congress to keep contract towers open and operational beyond June 15,” said J. Spencer Dickerson, president of the U.S. Contract Tower Association. “The broad coalition of communities, airports, air traffic controllers, aviation system users and members of Congress that has emerged in recent months united in the fight to keep contract towers open is a testament to the important role these facilities play in enhancing the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system.”
But while officials in communities like Frederick are grateful that the towers won’t be shut down come June 15, the fix may only be temporary, Dickerson said.
“We’ve had several discussions with folks on the Hill, but it certainly looks like we’ll be back with same battles both on the furlough issue and the towers because this fix only gets us until the end of September,” he said.
The potential shutdown of the tower at Frederick Municipal Airport was particularly notable because the tower had been paid for with millions in federal stimulus dollars and had been open for less than a year when the FAA announced that it would be among 149 such facilities closed as a result of the mandatory federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1. About seven controllers were at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the closure.