Amarillo, TX -- The Texas Transportation Commission is stepping in to keep the state's airways open, after Governor Rick Perry appealed for emergency funding.
The federal budget cuts that kicked in three weeks ago have the Federal Aviation Administration planning to close 149 air traffic control towers across the country, including 13 in Texas. And at the behest of Governor Perry, the Commission will keep those towers open for the next three months.
On March 2nd, the Budget Control Act implemented the across the board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The FAA was forced to cut about $600 million from its budget, and among those on the chopping block were some air traffic control towers.
But they only targeted contract towers, which are usually at smaller airports and staffed by subcontracted employees. Federal towers, like the ones at Rick Husband International Airport in Amarillo, will not be affected.
"Our tower - the people who run that and the controllers are all FAA employees," explains airport manager Patrick Rhodes, "and the 'contract towers' are people who have qualified to be a controller or a controller manager, but they work for a private business."
The FAA does provide local funding for upgrades and improvements in the form of an annual grant, and officials don't expect that to change.
"Typical funding that this airport gets from the FAA amounts to about three million dollars a year, and that's based on the number of people who fly out of here," says Rhodes, "But I think if the program were going to be impacted, they would have let us know by now."
The estimated annual cost of keeping the thirteen towers open is about $7 million. Without funding, the towers would have closed on April 7th.
If you'd like to learn more about the significance and impact of the cuts or read Governor Perry's letter for yourself, follow the links attached to this story.