The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday it will close 149 air traffic control towers because of federal budget cuts. The tower at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach is on the list to close.
The FAA originally proposed the closure of 189 towers at small airports around the country. Four towers in South Carolina were on that list: Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, Donaldson Center in Greenville, Hilton Head Airport in Hilton Head, and Florence Regional Airport in Florence.
Grand Strand, Donaldson, and Hilton Head are all on the closure list. Click here for a list of the closures.
Florence Regional Airport is not on that list. It is also not on a list of towers that will stay open. The FAA told WPDE NewsChannel 15 Friday afternoon that means no decision has yet been made on Florence Regional.
Florence Regional Airport Director Eddie Gunn told WPDE NewsChannel 15 they are happy to not be on the closure list and everything is operating as normal at the airport.
Twenty-four contract towers that were on the original list of proposed closures will remain open. Click here for that list.
Sixteen federal contract towers under the "cost share" program will also remain open. Click here for that list.
All of the affected airports will remain open. Pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. That's something they are trained to do, but airport directors have raised concerns about the potential impact on safety.
According to the FAA, the agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.
An additional 16 federal contract towers under the "cost share" program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required five percent cut will not result in tower closures.
"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."
"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
In early March, FAA proposed to close 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration and announced that it would consider keeping open any of these towers if doing so would be in the national interest.
The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the 149 federal contract towers beginning on April 7.