OK, maybe the sequester hasn't hit the airline industry just yet, but wait until April 7. That's when 173 air traffic control towers at small- and medium-sized airports around the nation will close; 16 more will be shuttered on Sept. 30. As CNN explains, the affected towers are the majority of the nation's 251 contract towers, which are staffed by contractors rather than FAA employees. While the sequester is slicing 5% from the FAA's budget, the funds for contract towers are getting slashed 75%.
This despite costing an average of $537,000 a year to operate, or about one-quarter the cost of a similar FAA-staffed tower. "We're extremely discouraged and disappointed that the FAA is taking this action," says the head of the Contract Tower Association. "It's hard for us to see the fairness in the budget cuts." And though the contract towers handle only 6% of commercial airline operations, they manage 28% of all air traffic control tower operations. CNN says the aircraft that rely on these towers should be able to land on their own or get assistance from a more distant tower—which could further stress FAA resources. About 49 FAA-run control towers could face closure.