Tower closures and furloughs: Are they necessary?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The FAA intends to send furlough notices to its employees, meaning in early April fewer controllers will be on the job unless Congress acts before that to make some changes to sequestration. The National Air Traffic Controller Association says it has been notified of this, adding that closing towers is “even worse.”

With the FAA threatening to close 189 control towers plus put another 60 on part time at night, a basic question remains unanswered: Will the controllers furloughed at the closed towers be assigned to other towers or would they be laid off? The towers to be closed are operated by private contract controllers, not the FAA. The FAA, however, says that such a transfer would be up to the contract holders.

Furloughs are expected to mean one or possibly two days off per pay period, which is every two weeks, for each affected employee. There are approximately 15,000 controllers, not including maintenance personnel.

Traffic might be reduced at airports by closing some runways. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, for instance, has two control towers. By closing one, operations on two runways would be stopped.

Whether or not the threatened delays in air traffic are needed is a question circulating around Capitol Hill. If the FAA is to operate like the Agricultural Department, the effort is to make the sequester budget cuts as painful as possible to gain public support for the president’s programs and create anger against the Republicans, according to insiders.

A leaked memo from Eastern Regional Director Charles Brown in the Raleigh, N.C., office of the Agriculture Department seems to tell regional workers that any money issues should not contradict the administration’s statements about the impact of sequestration. His memo quotes from higher authority: “We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the agriculture industry unless they provided funding to cover the costs. So it is our opinion that however you handle that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be’.”

A column in The Washington Times charges Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with a plan for the FAA that would inflict the most possible pain on the traveling public. It points out that the FAA has cost overruns on 15 of its 30 modernization programs amounting to more than $4 billion. “Before creating a false alarm regarding sequestration’s impact on aviation, the agency needs to sharpen its pencils and consider all its options.”


  1. Edwin says

    Why are most Americans hell bent to bankrupt our country and always blame the ‘other’ party? Let’s grow up and take the pain pill – either we all pay more taxes and get more services (i.e. air trafic control) or we balance the budget by getting less services. Simple math boys.

  2. Dale Rust says

    Mr. DeForge is really on to something, especially the privately owned airport aspect, but that is a subject for another day.

    I would say that Mr. Obama and former Chicago’s Mayor Daley have/had a lot in common .. both have/had vendettas .. Mr. Obama’s objective is to inflict pain, arouse anger, and drive a wedge .. and attempt to further splinter what is left of the conservative movement. The former mayor of Chicago was someone who had a huge vendetta against the Illinois Division of Aeronautics. He had no use for Aeronautics because they were pushing hard the Peotone airport project (to his avowed displeasure). He had other reasons for hating the Division of Aeronautics, so he sent his henchmen, the former state DOT official, and of course, our dear former governor (now residing out of state), on a mission to abolish Aeronautics. They almost succeeded. This is coming from someone who had spent over 23 years with the Division and witnessed the battle and potential carnage of Aeronautics, with ‘yours truly’ almost being transferred into the Highway Traffic Safety Division to continue the duties of airport inspections. But then the FAA’s Chicago ADO came to the fore, stepped up to the plate, and said that would not be such a good idea (abolishing Aeronautics), since they were the ‘interface’ for federal funding of the Illinois airports, and warranted deserved consideration for other commendable aeronautical deeds. Of course, by this time, Meigs was already plowed under (well, put out of commission). And, of course Aeronautics was hugely instrumental in attempting to keep Meigs open .. and, among other reasons, they did use Meigs as the staging area for their Springfield/Chicago shuttle with their King Airs.

    A few issues ago, the AOPA Pilot magazine attempted to resurrect the story behind Meigs .. this is the REAL story.

    What does this all have to do with airport tower closures and furloughs?? It’s called personal political objectives and malicious vendettas.

  3. kkrumm says

    When will these ignorant liberals who think taxing the rich is the answer take a course in economics. The “rich” have never paid taxes! They own the businesses that provide products and services to the middle classes. Raise their taxes and they raise their prices. The result, the middle class always pays any tax hike. Oblama wants the sheep in this country to blame the Republicans for sequestration when it is his out of control spending to buy votes that caused the problem in the first place. And we have one idiot who wants to bring up Reagan’s firing of Air traffic controllers who were illegally, and in violation of their contract, on strike. GROW UP!

  4. Wilbur McCullah says

    Are you kidding ! The Republicans are the reason there is no money in the first place as they oppose getting money from the only place it is in this country which is with the top few percent and by 1/4 of the most profitable U.S Corporations paying zero in taxes.
    Instead of viewing this as a political tactic instead maybe it should be looked at for what it really is and that is when government has no money things must be eliminated or reduced.

    • Roger says

      You must listen to abc, nbc, cbs news. It seems to me the nut in the WH is the one inflicking the plan to close airport towers and protect union jobs. May be you need facts be for you write.

  5. Bill Gyzen says

    The Obama Administration is trying to inflicted as much pain as possible with these sequester cuts in order to arouse as much anger as possible. They hope that the anger will be directed at the Republicans with the help of the MSM, but I think this will backfire. If the FAA really wanted to save money, they would convert even more FAA Towers to contract towers. Contract Towers are twice as efficient as their counterparts. But saving tax payer money is not the objective here. What the Obama Administration is doing is nothing less than criminal.

  6. Lyle Peterson says

    Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Attributed to Benjamin Franklin

    There is no evidence that the liberties taken from us by Homeland Security have given us any safety. Homeland Security is a huge expense. It is ineffective. They waste huge amounts of money trying to get the detectors right and they still haven’t achieved success there. The agency was a knee jerk reaction to a terrible event. It is a “feel good” program. Notice that their focus is on commercial passenger flights. Does anyone remember Oklahoma City? Yet the government doesn’t think it necessary to do background checks on people renting trucks. Not that background checks would show something that should disqualify a person from renting a truck.

    The entire sequestration bit is a ploy to gain political capital for either or both political parties. Recall the “fiscal cliff.” The entire country was going to fall off the edge if drastic measures weren’t taken immediately. We survived. This situation will be much more public. Imagine going to the airport and find that your flight has been delayed, or even cancelled, due the control tower at one of the stops being closed. Now you have the traveling public up in arms and wanting something done right now.

    It’s politics as usual.

  7. C J Kirby says

    Some very good comments have been made here. The fact that so many realize that the closing of many of the “contract towers” across the country will not harm aviation is critical to this discussion. Tha Obama administration does indeed intend to inflict as much “pain” as it deems nessasary to make a political statement meant to demean Republicans and conservatives in the eyes of Americans. Why would they do such a thing? You would have to go back to the days leading up to sequestration. The administration tried tirelessly to convince Americans that sequestration would cause cataclysmic failures in the government within days of sequestration taking effect. On the eve of these government cuts being signed into the law the President himself admitted that the doomsday predictions were a bit overstated. When business as usual occurred within the government in the days following sequestration, and many of the doomsdayers beginning to backpedal, another plan, by the Democrats, had to be devised that would spread negative reaction to sequestration. This now brings us to the rhetoric over how deeply these cuts will affect all Americans. The worse the Administration can make them out to be, the more redeemed the Administration feels it can appear to the American public because their doomsday senario did not occur as had been predicted. Scare tactics of this sort will not work with those who are intelligent and well informed of the truth.

  8. Roger says

    @ ManyDecadeGA I disagree. There are 6 towers closing in Idaho and one is ours. We have 3 airlines that come in here an about thirty flights a day and then the GA’s are over 100 flights a day. We have 3 flight schools and over 200 planes based here and 2 heli. operations on the airport. We also have several military flights that use our airports for practice, yet we will have our tower closed that has been open since the “60′s.

  9. Ray DeForge says

    Close all towers where there are no Part 121 operations, and staff those towers with private contractors. Convert the remaining manned Flight Service Stations to operate as fully automated. Quit printing paper charts. Eliminate the Transportation “Security” Administration.. In fact, eliminate all of Homeland “Security”; and designate law enforcement with the task of bringing terrorists to justice. Make all privately owned airports tax exempt (Federal, State & local), if they would be open for public use with commercial liability insurance provided at deep discounts from the Federal Government. Stop the ridiculous re-registration of aircraft. Eliminate Annual Inspections, and make Hundred Hour Inspections mandatory (including Conditionals for Experimentals).

  10. Retired ATCS says

    If Obama directs the FAA to inflict maximum pain and suffering in order to sway public opinion, he will be in mighty deep sh** if an accident occurs because of his actions. Well, maybe not, since he is the top dog. But heads will roll elsewhere.

  11. Lyle Peterson says

    It isn’t really a question of whether a tower or all of the towers are necessary. Certainly some towers could be closed without compromising safety or creating inconvenience for pilots or passengers. What should anger everyone is the manner in which the cuts are applied. This is merely politics as usual. It is the application of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) There is fear on the part of the controllers who will be laid off. There is much uncertainty in the entire process. There is lots of doubt that our government can manage the budget or anything else having to do with keeping this country on an even keel. It is the typical blame game. It is refusing to take responsibility for wrong actions and failing to take the right actions. Congress needs a playground monitor.

  12. says

    What about the six million dollars the Corp of Engineers is putting into a “fish pond” at the old Chicago Meigs Airport. See AOPA Pilot March 2013 issue. The despot Dailey bulldozes it up in the middle of the night, standing 16 airplane and is awarded 6M for his dastardly act—politics at its worst. The Great Lakes are suffering from lowering lake levels, causing grave economic conditions to the shippers and needs harbors desperately dredged and the Corp is building a fish pond!! jlw

  13. Thomas says

    As a Federal employee and I can absolutely verify that the directed cuts regarding furlough of civilian employee’s are for the most part unnecessary. My own organization is already operating on half of it’s budget from two years ago, and can still pay all it’s civilian employee’s for the remainder of the year even under sequestration rules. Yet, we are directed to furlough. Why is that?

  14. Arlie Asay says

    Why are we not talking about stopping aid to all the foreign countries we are sending
    aid to? Stop IMF loans those who hate us. What about the 20 billion loss on the
    loan to auto company bail out which is a loss to the taxpayer? Also stopping the two
    year unemployment handout. Most have no intention of applying for a job until that
    runs out. Cut of aid to unwed mothers, who continue to use this as a way to up their
    income. Put people who are in jail for not paying child support, to work for the county
    and let them use that money for child support. Cut all perks off for government workers.

  15. Austin says

    Please consider that all the budget cuts & ensuing disruptions of service are leveled at the people who pay the most taxes. It is no more than class warfare that pits “us” against “them”. Eventually, “them” will suffer the most; but, be too ignorant to know why.

  16. Richard Wyeroski says

    Let’s play games with safety. All pilots are not equal and towered airports keep inexperienced aviators away.

    FAA has wasted four Billion dollars on Next/Gen because of corruption. So why are they risking safety. Political games will hurt innocent people.!!!

  17. Lawrence Lawn says

    Since it has been shown that privately run control towers are safer than similiar sized government run control towers and they cost substantially less to operate, why not simply make all control towers privately run.
    I agree with also closing non needed towers and night shifts at fields that have so little traffic that the controlers are known to fall asleep.
    These are cost savings that can and should be instituted and would result in substantial savings.

    • Steve says

      Contract towers are safer than FAA? Not likely. They probably are just covering up more. Staffing a 12 hour a day 7 day a week tower with 5 people isn’t at all safer, and that is how the contractors save the money.

  18. Lord Bowdon says

    So lets see – sequestration = 2% of the budget. I see that the FAA cares not one iota for the customers – i.e. pilots and public, instead, it is focused EXCLUSIVELY on preserving jobs for the boys, by closing only the privately operated control towers.

    It could have saved 2% of its budget by providing one less “sick day” per year for every employee. I work in the private sector and have taken a total of just 5 sick days (for hospitalisation) in my life. It’s all about attitude.

    Just another example of how the government wastes YOUR money.

    • says

      To attempt to place blame on the Republicans is the sole reason for this action. The sequestration cuts are actually only reductions in the budget increases from last year. The FAA will still have more money to spend than last year. The stopping of the White House tours is along the same line.

  19. Runfastandwin says

    Dear conservatives: what ye sow, so shall ye reap. You can’t sequester spending without sequestering spending. The law mandates an across the board cut to every agency listed, including the FAA. Contact your GOP congressperson if you don’t like it. The Democrats are more than ready to cut a deal.

  20. Kent Misegades says

    All of the 5 towers on the list in my state of NC have been slated for possible closure for some time. There are no surprises here at all. If the administration thinks they will anger fiscal Conservatives through sequester and other nutty claims, they do not understand Conservatives. As far as I am concerned, we should have such real cuts once a quarter, or maybe once a year, until the budget generates a surplus. Then we use half the surplus to start paying off our mountain of debt and the other half is turned into lower taxes for the 2% who pay most of it. Cuts are across the board, all departments including all entitlements and all retirement benefits, especially for federal employees.

  21. Curious George says

    This may be our opportunity to close some very low use towers that do nothing for safety, and cost a lot of money to keep open. I’ve flown into many towered airports only to find few aircraft on the ramp, and fewer aircraft arriving or departing during the day or two I spent there. On the other hand, I’ve flown into several “uncontrolled” airports where it is common to find six or more aircraft in the pattern – including regional airliners, all playing nicely. It looks to me like a majority of contract towers are just another form of pork barrel.

  22. Guido says

    Sucking up to the FAA unions. Good call for him, personally, but not in the best interests of the aviation community. Wasted money on towers that should be closed is just plain stupid. Much like most of this administrations works these days. And, of course, they close, or threaten to, some big ones and leave a bunch of useless ones open……

  23. ManyDecadeGA says

    Many of these towers primarily serving GA airports were unnecessary in the first place. They contribute little or nothing to actual flight safety or efficiency. With pending provisions for remote tower function operation (e.g., as in Scandinavia), or even enhancing “self-announce”, as well as using an RCO for clearance delivery, for coordination of IFR departure airspace, and for convenient closing of instrument flight plans, many of these towers could and should likely be permanently closed. There are many other areas where FAA expenses could and should also be cut, such as for pulling the plug on obsolete WAAS (which is as unnecessary as the previously nearly useless IFR LORAN C), and airspace wasting angular straight-in criteria procedures for LPV, instead of simply going straight to the vastly superior RNP procedures. Hence, GA should never pass up an opportunity to make constructive and positive changes for forcing FAA into doing what it ought to have done in the first place, seeking cost savings and better efficiency, even if the reason has to be grounded in a “manufactured” financial crisis.

    • Roger says

      @ ManyDecadeGA I disagree. There are 6 towers closing in Idaho and one is ours. We have 3 airlines that come in here an about thirty flights a day and then the GA’s are over 100 flights a day. We have 3 flight schools and over 200 planes based here and 2 heli. operations on the airport. We also have several military flights that use our airports for practice, yet we will have our tower closed that has been open since the “60’s.

      • ManyDecadeGA says

        Roger…which part of “many” [towers] did you not perhaps hear? Yes, where volume is sufficient, there are some ATS towers that marginally remain useful even in their present form (at least until we technologically move forward to the point where even those functions can be handled in better ways). Just for an example, even the new [unnecessarily tall] SEATAC tower [KSEA] was recently photographed “well up in the fog”, while the entire airport surface had better than 1 mile visibility, and traffic flowed normally. That tower couldn’t see a thing visually. Hence, the tower “function” at many airports now can largely be provided remotely, from almost anywhere [electronically], even hundreds of miles away, and even in a bunker. So keeping many low volume towers open, and worse yet, building new ones even higher up, even at major airports, is akin to now advocating that we need more nuclear powered carbon fiber composite air conditioned telephone booths,… in an era of ubiquitous cellphones. Perhaps it is time for the FAA to finally give up their Archie League era bonfires, light guns, and morse code, …and move forward at least into the 19th if not 20th century?

        • Roger says

          Apparently you don’t care any thing about air safety. When you are in a hole and Seattle can’t see you, you have to depend upon other eyes. Maybe you are like my wife and hate airplanes. Well this aviator would rather fly safely instead of out of control.
          “which part of “many” [towers] did you not perhaps hear?” We are scheduled for closer and that is what YOU at advocating. The ending to your last comment is just as idiotic.
          ” advocating that we need more nuclear powered carbon fiber composite air conditioned telephone booths” That would be like me advocating that women need to wear leaves again .

    • democrat says

      It is sad to see the aviation community go pro republican and anti democrat afterall it was Reagan who fired all the traffic controllers

      • Roger says

        As I remember that they defied the law and thought they could get past the NO STRIKE law and make it hard on the airlines. Unions in this case met their match and I welcomed Reagan for doing just that.

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