WASHINGTON -- North Perry Airport’s air control tower in Pembroke Pines has been spared the federal budget ax — at least for now.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that the closings of control towers at 149 small airports, including North Perry, which were due to begin this weekend because of government-wide spending cuts, are being delayed until mid-June.
The FAA said it needs more time to deal with legal challenges to the closures.
Also, about 50 airport authorities and other "stakeholders" have indicated they want to fund the operations of the towers themselves rather than see them shut down, and more time will be needed to work out those plans, the agency said in a statement.
The first 24 tower closures were scheduled to begin Sunday, with the rest coming over the next few weeks. Obama administration officials have said the closures are necessary to accomplish automatic spending cuts — or sequester — required by Congress.
Despite the delay, the FAA said it will stop funding all 149 of the airport towers, which are operated by private contractors, on June 15. Under the new schedule, the closures will be implemented at once, rather than a gradual phase-in as had been planned.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who sought to keep the air control towers open at North Perry, hailed the FAA’s decision as “a step in the right direction.”
“I will continue to make this airport my top priority, and I am confident that we will win long-term funding,” she said in a statement. “This is part of a broader struggle to stop the “sequester”, which destroys jobs and threatens our public safety, our children’s education, and our health.”
Wilson actually approved the sequester when she voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, included the sequester, which mandated the now controversial across-the-board budget cuts.
Wilson plans to hold a news conference Monday morning to talk about the latest FAA announcement at the North Perry Airport.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Boca Raton, also applauded the FAA’s action but in saving the Boca Raton Airport in Palm Beach County.
“This is welcome news that Boca Raton Airport will have more time to find a temporary fix to avoid the closing of its control tower.,” she said. “There are both safety and economic impacts at issue,”
She said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, also a Democrat from South Florida, are working to find a long-term solution to the problem.
“The Boca Raton Airport is an important economic engine and its control tower plays a key role in helping ensure the safety of the planes taking off and landing at the airport and the surrounding community,” she said.
Airport operators in several states, including Florida, Illinois and Washington state, and the U.S. Contract Tower Association, which represents the companies that operate contract towers, have filed lawsuits with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington seeking to halt the closures.
The suits contend that the closures violated a federal law meant to ensure major changes at airports do not erode safety, and unfairly targeted the program for an outsized share of the more than $600 million the agency is required to trim from its budget by the end of September.