CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Federal Aviation Administration is delaying the closure of federally-contracted control towers scheduled to shut down due to massive government budget cuts.
Originally, the FAA planned to begin control tower closures April 7, as part of their sequestration implementation plan, but announced Friday that closures have been delayed until June 15.
Locally, the control towers at both Concord and Hickory Regional Airports will lose their federal funding.
The FAA says the extra two months will allow the agency to attempt to resolve "multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions." Extending the transition deadline, the FAA says, "will give the agency and airports more time to execute changes to the National Airspace System."
"This has been a complex process, and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."
The Concord City Council had previously approved funding for two months following the loss of federal dollars, and planned an extensive analysis during that time to determine the appropriate course of action. On Friday, the Concord City Manager's Office said, "If needed, this will still be available to keep the tower running while exploring the best course of action."
Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt views the temporary extension of the tower program as a positive action.
"Hopefully, this extension will give the FAA the opportunity to more thoroughly evaluate the impact of the elimination of this program," Hiatt said.
Concord Regional Airport will remain open with or without the tower, the city says.
Without the tower, smaller planes would still be able to land at the airport, but larger charter jets would have to land somewhere else. This could cause problems for many NASCAR teams that are based in the area and use the airport.
"That would affect their operations, too, having to relocate somewhere else due to operational restrictions," said Concord Regional Airport Director Rick Cloutier.
Concord Regional is part of the tenth busiest airspace in the county.
Some have argued that the Concord Regional Airport is used as a recruiting tool to lure large companies to the region. Without the control tower, larger charter jets will not be able to land there.
On March 22, the FAA announced the list of 149 federal control towers slated to lose their funding.
Twenty-four federal contract towers previously proposed for closure will remain open because closure "would have a negative impact on the national interest."
According to the FAA, an additional 16 federal contract towers under the "cost share" program will remain open because of a Congressional statue that sets aside funds for each tower every fiscal year.
The FAA proposed the shut down of contract control towers to meet the $637 million in budget cuts as required under sequestration.
Communities have the option to participate in the FAA's non-federal tower program, but would assume the cost of continued on-site air traffic control services at their airport. The FAA says they're committed to facilitating the transition, and the additional time will only better allow the FAA to do so.
To date, 50 airport authorities and stakeholders have indicated an interest in joining the non-federal tower program.
Other control towers that will be shutting down regionally are Coastal Carolina Regional in New Bern, Smith Reynolds in Winston Salem, Kinston Regional Jetport in Kinston, Donaldson Center in Greenville, SC and Hilton Head Airport in Hilton Head, SC.