Sequester Shuts Down Air Traffic Control Towers At Opa-Locka, North Perry, And Boca Raton Airports

Airliners taking off and Control Tower in sunset at Orlando International Airport
Airliners taking off and Control Tower in sunset at Orlando International Airport

Private pilots and residents living close to small airports may be the ones to face the perils of federal sequester cuts most drastically.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to close air traffic control towers at three South Florida airports and reduce shifts at two more, according to officials, as the FAA loses $600 million of their annual budget as part of the $84 billion sequester cuts that went into effect on Friday.

Starting in April, the FAA is closing towers at 100 U.S. airports, those with fewer than 150,000 flights or 10,000 commercial operations annually. This includes those at Opa-Locka Executive, North Perry in Hollywood, and Boca Raton runways.

The sequester also means that the overnight shifts at Fort Lauderdale Executive and Palm Beach airports will also be shut down, as well as 58 other overnight shifts throughout the country.

"Safety is our top priority, and in the course of implementing the operational changes, we may reduce the efficiency of the national airspace in order to maintain the highest standards," Transportation secretary Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator, wrote in a letter about the closures.

Efficiency and safety may be especially tied in Florida where home-built airplanes are so popular. In 2010, the state saw about two crashes by experimental aircrafts a month, resulting in six fatalities, according to a report by Miami New Times.

One such home-built plane recently crashed through the fence at North Perry airport.

"I hear the engines stop sometimes in the sky, in mid-flight, and I'm afraid they're going to crash," a neighbor, who has lived next to the fence at North Perry for 17 years, told the Sun Sentinel.

Two decades earlier, another small jet ripped through North Perry's fence and landed on a nearby baseball diamond where a little league game had just ended.

While a manned control tower can't prevent every crash, the Sun Sentinel reports that FAA cites that most crashes occur at take-off and landing.

"It’s an extra set of eyes at the tower that’s going to be gone,” Ismael Bonilla, deputy director of Broward County’s aviation department, told the Miami Herald. “I’m a pilot myself. It gets very challenging when you don’t have that extra set of eyes the tower gives you.”

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