The air traffic control tower at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach will get to stay open after all.
The control tower, one of 149 at small airports across the country set to close June 15, was saved Friday after the Federal Aviation Administration determined that the same recently approved legislation that suspended FAA furloughs also would keep the air traffic control towers open. The towers are funded to stay open through at least the end of the budget year Sept. 30.
Closing the air traffic control towers was part of the FAA’s plan to cut the required $637 million under sequestration.
Glenn Ray, one of four air traffic controllers who work at Grand Strand Airport, said the skies there will be safer with the control tower operating. Officials have been lobbying to keep the tower open.
“A lot of pilots ask every day [if there was word about staying open],” Ray said Friday afternoon. “They want us to stay.”
The runway at Grand Strand Airport logs 50,000 landings and takeoffs a year. The airport is a hub for private pilots, corporate jets, banner planes, helicopter tours and a sky diving business and also serves as a refueling spot for military aircraft used by the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
“[The tower] just seems to give order to the chaos,” Ray said. “It’s comforting to know we will have some structure and organization in that.”
Without the control tower, pilots would have had to use a frequency to announce their landings and takeoffs to others flying in the area.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has determined there is enough extra money available through a bill hastily passed by Congress two weeks ago to keep the towers open. The bill gave the FAA authority to shift up to $253 million from accounts with unspent funds to prevent further furloughs of air traffic controllers. The furloughs at all airport towers and air traffic control facilities caused widespread flight delays across the country for nearly a week before Congress stepped in.
FAA officials had previously said they needed $220 million to eliminate the need for furloughs. Congress didn't require the FAA to spend the remaining funds on keeping towers at small airports open, but lawmakers said they anticipated that the agency would use the money.
The FAA said it will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in its program to switch from a radar-based air traffic control system to one based on satellite navigation.
Another $11 million will go to “partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system,” the FAA statement said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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