Budget cuts force San Diego airport traffic control towers to cl - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Budget cuts force San Diego airport traffic control towers to close

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Air traffic control towers at San Diego's Brown Field Municipal Airport and Ramona Airport will close under the Federal Aviation Administration's forced spending cuts, the agency announced Friday.

The control towers at the Ramona Airport -- which also serves as a firefighting air base -- and at Brown Field in Otay Mesa are scheduled to close starting April 7, along with those at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, Fullerton Municipal Airport and Riverside Municipal Airport, according to the FAA.

The closures are among 149 federal contract towers nationwide expected to close within a four-week period.

"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she was deeply troubled by the FAA's decision to close the Ramona air traffic control tower.

"Clearly this is a situation where the federal government can't get its budget act together and is failing to put public safety first," Jacob said.

The county Board of Supervisors registered its opposition to the then only potential closure of the tower during its March 12 meeting.

Jacob said during that meeting the Ramona Airport the only one in San Diego County that could fully support Cal Fire's aircraft, and leaving its tower unstaffed would be a disaster waiting to happen. Efforts to install the tower stemmed from a mid-air collision in the area in 1995 that involved a federal aircraft that killed three, she said.

The airport's tower was completed in 2003, according to the county. Cal Fire's airport-based personnel respond to about 450 calls annually and are responsible for protecting more than 1.4 million acres, which includes some U.S. Forest Service land.

Brown Field is a general aviation airport and various types of aircraft operate from it including private planes, air ambulance, cargo, fire rescue and law enforcement, according to the City of San Diego. The FAA classified it a "reliever airport" for the San Diego International Airport.

In early March, the FAA proposed to close nearly 200 towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the administration would work with the airports and their operators to ensure procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports.

The FAA said it was targeting towers at airports with less than 150,000 takeoffs and landings and less than 10,000 commercial flights a year.

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