BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that it will delay closing 149 air traffic control towers, including the one at Beverly Municipal Airport, until June 15.
The towers had been scheduled to close over a four-week period starting Sunday. But the FAA said it is delaying the closures to allow time to resolve “multiple legal challenges.”
“This has been a complex process and we need to get this right,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release. “Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”
Beverly Airport Commission chairman Paul Vitale called the three-month reprieve “a big weight off our shoulders.”
“We can operate and we can survive fine without a control tower, but we don’t want it to close,” he said. “It’s like the old-fashioned traffic cop at the intersection. They control the traffic and help avoid collisions in the air and on the ground.”
The FAA announced last month that it would eliminate funding for all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers as part of the agency’s $637 million budget cuts under sequestration. The towers in question are operated by private companies, not by FAA employees.
About 50 airports are considering funding the tower operations themselves, according to the FAA. Vitale said that is not an option in Beverly, where the airport is owned by the city.
“We don’t have that kind of money coming in,” he said. “It could cost $400,000 to $600,000 per year.”
Without the air traffic controllers, airport officials said pilots will communicate with each other to coordinate takeoffs and landings. Beverly Airport handled 59,000 takeoffs and landings last year.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.