The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed the closure of 149 air traffic control towers at smaller airports until mid-June. That’s temporary relief for 11 towers in California.
The tower closures—due to sequestration—were scheduled to begin in phases on Sunday, April 7. The closure list included towers at airports in Oxnard, Pacoima and Fullerton.
"We realize that it's a temporary reprieve unless something in Washington changes," says Jim Gandee, president of the Fullerton Airport Pilots Association.
Gandee says the Fullerton tower is important to the helicopters of the California Highway Patrol, the Orange County Fire Department and to the Mercy Air medical transport service.
"When they are responding on an emergency, it’s best that they have priority departure and that can only be assured with the tower," says Gandee. "Without the tower, they have no choice but to fit in the normal traffic."
The FAA delayed the tower closures to deal with legal challenges and to give local airport authorities time to work out funding the towers on their own. Three days before the FAA’s announcement, the Fullerton City Council approved $50,000 to keep its airport tower open for at least a month.
Gandee, a flight instructor for 25 years, says his organization and others continue to prepare for the worst-case scenario: that the FAA will procede with tower closures on June 15.
His organization is holding seminars to explain to pilots how to fly safely through airspace that isn't controlled by a tower. Gandee says about a hundred people attended the seminar on Sunday, the day the tower at Fullerton's airport was originally scheduled to close.
The next seminar is scheduled for Tuesday, April 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the Fullerton Municipal Airport.