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Control towers at small airports to stay open

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration will keep open, for now, the 149 control towers at small airports that were slated to close as the result of government-wide automatic spending cuts imposed by Congress, the Transportation Department said Friday.

The towers, which are operated by contractors for the FAA at low-traffic airports, were scheduled to close June 15. They will remain open at least through Sept. 30, the end of the federal budget year, the department said in a statement.

Three West Virginia control towers are on the list, at Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg, Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport in Parkersburg and Wheeling-Ohio County Airport in Wheeling.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has determined there is enough extra money available through a bill hastily passed by Congress last month 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 will also put $10 million toward reducing cuts and delays in its program to switch from a radar-based air traffic control system to one based on satellite navigation, the statement said.

Another $11 million will go to "partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system," the statement said.


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