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Airport tower overnight shifts retained in FAA reversal

U.S. aviation regulators said yesterday they will keep 72 air traffic control facilities open during overnight hours, reversing a plan prompted by across-the-board budget cuts.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in an email it won’t shutter the towers “at this time.”

The FAA acted after Congress passed legislation April 26 giving the agency authority to transfer funds within its budget to end air traffic controller furloughs that caused thousands of flight delays. The agency ended furloughs the next day.

“We applaud FAA for having listened to airports’ calls to end plans to close 72 FAA facilities for overnight operations,” Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International-North America, said in a statement.

The FAA hasn’t said whether it still intends to stop funding 149 airport towers operated by contractors at small and mid-sized airports. The FAA earlier said it would cease paying for the towers June 15 in the sequestration cuts.

While the law’s language doesn’t address the towers, 124 members of the House and Senate wrote FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and his boss, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, last Thursday, saying their intent was that the towers stay open.

The FAA has to cut $637 million from its $16 billion budget by Sept. 30. The list of facilities FAA said yesterday would remain staffed around-the-clock included some with thriving commercial business, such as Chicago’s Midway International, Sacramento International in California and Fairbanks International in Alaska.

“I am happy that the FAA finally has come to its senses, but leaving the airport employees and Midway neighbors in limbo this long was unacceptable and no way to run a major metropolitan airport,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, an Illinois Democrat.

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