Contract control towers at Renton Municipal Airport and Tacoma Narrows Airport, which were scheduled to be shut down this month, will stay open until at least June 15 while the Federal Aviation Administration deals with legal challenges from airports across the country.
The FAA said last month it would eliminate funding for contract towers at 149 airports as part of $637 million in budget cuts caused by sequestration.
The Renton Municipal Airport is one of the many airports challenging the closures in court, according to a news release from the city of Renton. The city filed its petition for review in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, just before it was going to start a four-week closure process this Sunday.
“We hope that the FAA will reconsider this closure and resolve their budget issues in a way that doesn’t close the tower and potentially put the public at risk,” said Renton Mayor Denis Law in a statement.
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After June 15, contract towers will have to close unless the airports involved in the budget cuts find other nonfederal purposes for the facilities, according to the FAA. The agency says about 50 airports, including Tacoma Narrows, have expressed interest in joining its nonfederal contract tower program.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said she plans to look into public-private partnerships that could keep contract towers at Tacoma Narrows open.
Contract operations are used in about half of the country’s control towers and handle about 30 percent of national air traffic.
The FAA said in a release it will continue to consult with the airports to “review appropriate risk mitigations.”
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
Some FAA-controlled towers were threatened with possible budget cuts and even closures earlier this year as well, but are not officially on the chop block yet, according to Paine Field airport director Dave Waggoner.
The closure will be the largest contract-tower closure in history. Since the program’s start in 1982, only three towers have closed, according to the U.S. Contract Tower Association.
Times staff reporter Alexa Vaughn contributed to this report.
Information from The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times is included in this report.