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FAA delays airport tower closures that would affect Concord, Hickory

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that it will delay planned closures of control towers for two months at airports in Concord, Hickory and 147 other cities across the country.

The announcement gives a reprieve to airport officials, some of whom had sued the federal government over the closures. The delay in the planned closures also is good news for NASCAR because it will keep the smaller airports’ towers open past Charlotte’s spring Sprint Cup races, the All-Star race on May 18 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26.

The FAA had planned to begin the tower shutdowns Monday, phasing them in over four weeks to cut $637 million in spending during the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 – a result of the federal sequestration budget cuts.

The FAA said the delay, until June 15, will allow the agency to “resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions.” It also will allow airport officials across the country more time to make preparations for handling the air traffic that normally uses the airports where the control towers are being closed.

“I guess a delay is good,” said Peter Franzese, a spokesman for the city of Concord, which operates Concord Regional Airport. “We would rather have a permanent restoration of funding, of course.”

The FAA had announced last month that it would eliminate funding for air traffic control towers at the 149 airports.

Officials at Cuyahoga County Airport in Cleveland responded by saying they would sue the federal government. They were joined later by airport officials in three Florida cities – Naples, Ormond Beach and Punta Gorda – and in Spokane, Wash.

Franzese said Concord had not joined the lawsuit, but he added that “the city was evaluating whether that was something we wanted to do.”

In the meantime, Concord officials decided last week that they would use city funds to keep the control tower operating for two months, into June. With the FAA’s delay, city funding could keep the tower open into late summer.

“There are a lot of variables, however,” Franzese said Friday.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday that officials at about 50 airports had decided to fund tower operations themselves. He said the delay announced Friday will help local officials in that transition.

Officials in Concord said the federal government’s decision to close the control towers would seriously hurt local businesses that use the airport, including a number of NASCAR teams with headquarters in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Iredell counties.

It was the same story at Hickory’s airport. Local officials in Catawba County say the facility is heavily used by businesses in the surrounding counties.

Lyttle: 704 358-6107
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