WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration will keep open for now the 149 control towers at small airports - including Ryan Airfield in the Tucson area - that were slated to close as the result of governmentwide automatic spending cuts imposed by Congress, the Transportation Department said Friday.

The towers, which are operated by contractors for the FAA at low-traffic airports, had been scheduled to close June 15. They will now remain open at least through Sept. 30, the end of the federal budget year, the department said in a statement.

A bill hastily passed by Congress last month to end air traffic controller furloughs also makes enough money available to keep the towers open, the statement said. The bill gave the FAA authority to shift $253 million from accounts with unspent funds to keep controllers on the job. The furloughs at all FAA-operated airport towers and air traffic control facilities caused widespread flight delays across the country for nearly a week before Congress stepped in.

While the decision gives the small airports a temporary reprieve, FAA officials will still be under pressure to find ways to further cut spending in next year's budget.


The Tucson Airport Authority applauded the FAA's decision and thanked Southern Arizona's congressional delegation in a news release Friday.

"Having a staffed tower at Ryan Airfield means major safety and economic benefits for our entire region. In partnership with FAA, industry groups and elected representatives, TAA will continue to work to extend tower funding beyond fiscal year 2013," said Tucson Airport Authority President/CEO Bonnie Allin.

Arizona Daily Star