FAA releases guide for pilots affected by tower closures

The FAA has released a guide for pilots affected by the upcoming tower closures.

It begins: Airports operate safely throughout the United States with and without towers. On April 7, the FAA will stop funding for 149 contract control towers in three phases that did not meet the national interest screening criteria.. Funding will stop for 24 contract towers on April 7, 46 contract towers on April 21, and the remaining 79 contract towers on May 5.

“If your airport is one of those affected, we know you have questions,” FAA officials say in the guide.

FAA officials acknowledge that not all questions will be answered in the guide, so it has set up a 24-hour help line at 202-267-4376. Questions also can be  be emailed to FCTTransition@faa.gov.

The guide is broken down into sections. The first deals with facilities and equipment:

When the FAA ceases funding for control tower operations, the airport operator has a choice. The airport operator may choose to operate as a non-towered airport. The airport operator may also choose to continue providing tower services as a non-federal control tower. The decision made by the airport operator will most likely affect what happens with the existing tower structure and the equipment inside.

The FAA is prepared to discuss the continued use of buildings and equipment with airports for those who desire to continue providing tower services. The FAA will also discuss the availability of reimbursable agreements where the airport can reimburse the FAA to provide other services (e.g., maintenance, logistics support, etc.).

The FAA will not begin removing equipment and terminating local service agreements immediately. In most cases it will take up to 90 days after the contract tower funding ceases for the FAA to begin disconnecting and removing equipment at the affected towers. FAA owned and maintained equipment that remains with the tower after becoming a non-federal tower will continue to be owned and maintained by the FAA subject to future discussions and possible agreement with the Airport.


The control towers have a variety of personnel working inside today. Contract controllers, FAA employees, and others all work together to provide air traffic services to the flying public.

As the FAA terminates its contracts for air traffic advisory services, the affected companies will determine the status of their employees. If the FAA has its own employees housed at these locations, then the necessary agreements will be made with airports to continue housing them or they will be relocated.


What happens after a tower closure? Any towered airport has a variety of items to consider when their tower closes.

• Frequencies – Closure of the tower does not inhibit the availability of a common traffic frequency which is used by pilots to operate at non-towered airports. The FAA will work with airports to ensure a common traffic frequency is available, along with any other communications capabilities that may be necessary (e.g., ASOS, ATIS, ETC.)

• Pilot-Activated Lights – In many instances, airports already have pilot-controlled lighting available since the vast majority of contract control towers close overnight. In the event the capability is not present, then alternative procedures may be used (e.g., leave lights on). Airports can work with their Airport District Offices to explore federal funding possibilities, through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), for pilot controlled lighting capabilities.

• Weather Observation – Airports have many different types of weather reporting capabilities available to them. Airports may choose to acquire Contract Weather Observers or use Automated weather reporting systems (ASOS, AWOS, etc.) if they are available. The availability of weather information is a critical requirement for air carrier operations to arrive/depart at the airport. The FAA will work with airports, through reimbursable agreements, to ensure the desired level of weather reporting capabilities is available.

To read the full guidelines, click here.



  1. Captain George says

    There is no more important function of the FAA than the safe seperation of aircraft, especially at airports where they all aim at the same spot on the runway. One aircraft at one airport is not a landing problem (usually). But when it gets busy, all things can happen. If the FAA can’t do this job, we don’t need certification, licenses, safety programs, medicals, etc.
    When the FAA abandones a tower, confiscate the property; when Obama-Hitler lands his AF One, confiscate it; when a state (Federal) aircraft lands, charge a ten-fold landing & ramp fee till you make up the cost of operating a contract tower. When the FBI, Justice Department, State Department, etc land, charge till the tower cost is paid. If anyone dies at a closed tower field, Obama and Huerta should be charged with murder!

  2. Rick says

    Will be interesting to see the towers closed where non-union workers provide service vs union towers.

    Anyone care to guess??

    Also, do you think Trent Lott International will lose its tower?

  3. Brent says

    For many years I enjoyed watching aviation streak thru the stratosphere. Nowadays however, I see aviation in a high speed dive toward the ground. I wonder if it is time to use the parachute……..

  4. Michael Squadrille says

    Pilots are trained to operate/fly without control tower support i.e. after (some) General Aviation airports close for the night or, … at those airports which do not have control towers – due to their low volume of air operations and/or given their rural locations.

    However, closing towers in the busiest air space in the Nation, specifically Southern California, presents enormous risks.

    Most airports identified for closure are in close proximity to larger airports such as John Wayne, Long Beach. LAX, Ontario & Bob Hope’s …

    The FAA is setting the stage for accidents and, in the opinion of this writer, making an awful mistake. We all understand the need for cost reductions but …

    … most of these airports are relief facilities for the larger ones in the immediate area. The former accommodate smaller (General Aviation) airplanes & helicopters, thereby minimizing the mix with the air carriers’ commercial aircraft.

    Fullerton Municipal Airport, for example, is home to the local California Highway Patrol Air Wing, Mercy Air, Anaheim PD’s air wing, Southern California Fire Authority Air Operations, training schools, etc.
    General aviation aircraft also utilize this airport given it’s proximity to local medical facilities (CHOC, St Joseph, UCI Medical Center, etc), amusement parks & sports venues (Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, the Ducks Pond, …), the Anaheim Convention Center, … to name a few.
    Daytime traffic includes both rotary and fixed wing aircraft, most of which are detailed above, … apart from business aircraft.

    To compound busy air traffic, on hazy days, visibility can be challenging when flying VFR. Combined with the other factors indicated, reduced visibility increases the risk for accidents.

    The same principle applies to the airports at Hawthorne, Torrance & Santa Monica – each being ideal relief airports for LAX – a couple of miles away.

    The FAA does not appear to have done any in-depth research before launching into this
    across the board set of closures.
    The FAA simply came up with an arbitrary annual number of landings/take-off operations below which, the tower(s) is/are being closed.
    Unwise, not thought through & setting the stage for incidents.

  5. Terry says

    I’m not an alarmist but I have seen a number of saves at my contract ATC airport. I think there is some possibility to reduce hours but at busy times like weekends I think there is a real possibility of a tragedy. I hope not but I suspect my fears are real.

  6. Edo says

    It gets far worse than Italy, look at the various skirmishes in Africa where 60% of the continent is either at or recovering from conflict. Here you have the very wealthy and the dirt poor. This is why Moi disarmed his people. I watched Somalia go down the tubes, a once self-sustaining, very clean and orderly nation. Corruption, as we ourselves are seeing, starts at the top.

  7. Michael Dean says

    “…national interest screening criteria…”

    I would love to see a definition of that criteria. If it came out of Washington it has to be hilarious. Right up to the point of being tragic.

    • atcforlife says

      “The national interest considerations included: (1) significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security; (2) significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community; (3) significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and (4) the extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.”

      Would you prefer cuts at major airports instead?

      • James R Cochran says

        Would you rather have your right arm or left arm amputated? How about, Neither! Simple to see the ploy here – head-in-sand solution to reductions so US public will know the “sky is falling” and demand all those budget cuts be restored! Good idea to tax those who someone else (Who?) decides are “Wealthy” to make up the shortfall, you think? Let’s not look at what can be reduced, say, free cell phones in DC and hundreds of other questionable handouts all over the US, to keep avaiation safe; and by the way to keep some very hard working folks on their jobs. Or let’s put them out of work and give them a cell phone! How stupid can it get!

  8. Austin says

    Really?…”that did not meet the national interest screening criteria”…Yet, the small fortune allocated to the study of “why lesbians tend to be obese” does? There are thousands of gov/taxpayer funded boondoggles that continue on unabated. The difference is that GA is the environment inhabited by the taxpayers paying the most taxes – ergo, it’s fair game to deprive them of what they pay for, to give the spoils to those that vote for a living.
    In the end, we’ll have the last laugh as the proletariat & ignorant masses realize that they are merely surviving. They’ll see their gov bureaucrats, politicians & sycophant major corp heads living high; and, thereupon, will turn on them. I have personally seen it in Italy & it ain’t pretty. A country with no middle class is truly a slave population with little or no control over their own destiny. Yep, the leftist gov knows it BETTER disarm the population…Blue skies.

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