FAA delays closure of contract airport traffic control towers: Closures postponed until June 15

SAN DIEGO - Airport traffic control towers in Ramona, Pacoima, Riverside and Fullerton will remain open longer than expected, with the Federal Aviation Administration announcing Friday it was delaying the closures that were expected to begin this weekend as part of forced spending cuts under sequestration.

Some towers were expected to close beginning Sunday, with a tower in Lancaster scheduled to close April 21 and a tower in San Diego closing May 5.

The towers are located at Brown Field in San Diego, Ramona Airport, Riverside Municipal Airport, Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, Fullerton Municipal Airport and Gen. William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster.

The Southland locations were among 149 federal contract towers nationwide that were expected to close within a four-week period.

But the FAA announced Friday it was postponing the closures until June 15 to allow the agency to try to resolve legal challenges to some of the closures. Agency officials also noted that some airport authorities around the country have indicated they hope to fund tower operations themselves to prevent the closures, and the delay would help finalized those plans.

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

Ramona's inclusion on the tower closure list drew opposition in San Diego because the airport serves as a base for firefighting aircraft.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the delay wasn't good enough, and challenged LaHood to back up his comment on safety.

"If that was the case, the federal government shouldn't even be talking about pulling air controllers out of Ramona," Jacob said. "The tower is on the front line of public safety in our region, and closing it would a disaster, especially as we approach the height of the wildfire season."

In early March, the FAA proposed to close nearly 200 towers -- including the structure at Hawthorne Municipal Airport -- as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration.

However, the Hawthorne facility was saved after the FAA made the decision the closure would negatively impact the national interest.

Also on the saved list is Santa Monica Airport, which will be considered in a later round of cuts, according to the FAA.

The federal agency said it was targeting towers at airports with less than 150,000 takeoffs and landings and less than 10,000 commercial flights a year.

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