WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it will delay its planned closure of control towers at 149 smaller airports until June 15 in order to resolve several legal challenges.
The closures, which were due to begin as early as Sunday, were one of the most visible signs of the broad "sequester" budget cuts that kicked in on March 1.
The FAA, which oversees the U.S. air traffic system, must trim roughly 10 percent of its budget by the end of the Sept. 30 fiscal year. As part of that effort, the agency announced last month that it would close air-traffic control towers at smaller airports across the country.
Pilots at those facilities would have to coordinate takeoffs and landings on their own. The FAA said the decision would not compromise safety because those smaller airports only handle about one percent of commercial air traffic.
Industry groups and several individual airports filed lawsuits to block the move, charging that the FAA had skipped its own review process to determine how the closures would impact safety and the environment.
"For us it really is good news. We've got some time to continue to work out the problem," said Spokane, Washington airport manager Larry Krauter, who was one of the first to take legal action.
Those airports now will have several months to find a solution - either through negotiation with the FAA or through Congress. Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran's attempt to exempt the control towers from the sequester fell short in March, but he is expected to mount another effort when Congress returns next week.
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