The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it will delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15.
Last month, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these towers as part of the agency's required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration.
An FAA spokesperson has confirmed that the Glacier Park International Airport is included in the delay.
Earlier this week NBC Montana told you that Glacier Park International Airport's owner is attempting to block the closure of its air-traffic control tower.
The Flathead Municipal Airport Authority filed a lawsuit March 29 against the Federal Aviation Administration. The complaint asks the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision to close the tower.
The FAA says the delay allow the agency to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions. As part of the tower closure implementation process, the agency continues to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations.
"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."
In response to the FAA's announcement, Airport Director Cindi Martin said in a statement Friday, "Today's decision is a welcome development, however the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority will continue to work toward a long term solution."
We spoke with one local pilot and businessman who tells NBC Montana the tower's radio signals are a welcome sound when he flies into GPIA.
"Yes, the tower is off at night and no one crashes because of that. But at the same time, the day hours are the busiest," said Giuseppe Caltabiano. "It's really cozy to come home and hear the voice of the tower welcoming us home and directing us for a safe landing."
As of Friday, approximately 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may join the FAA's non-Federal Contract Tower program and fund the tower operations themselves. This additional time will allow the FAA to help facilitate that transition.
"We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
On March 22, the FAA announced that it would stop federal funding for 149 contract towers across the country. A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin this Sunday, April 7. That phased closure process will no longer occur. Instead, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers on June 15 and will close the facilities unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower.