ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday it will delay closing the control tower at St. Augustine airport and dozens of others until June 15 while it tries to resolve "multiple legal challenges" to the decision.
Ed Wuellner, executive director at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine, says his airport has joined with Naples Airport in a lawsuit challenging the FAA's order to no longer fund air traffic controllers.
"We are simply asking the FAA to do what they are required to do by law," said Wuellner.
The FAA announced plans to close 149 airport control towers, including the one in St. Augustine, as early as next month due to budgetary concerns. Wuellner believes the FAA's decision is unsafe and shortsighted.
"All we are doing is asking them to follow their own rules relative to closure and conduct studies to see if its indeed safe to close that particular tower. We hope they will come to the conclusion it is not afe to do that here," said Wuellner.
Wuellner says Northeast Florida Regional Airport is a high volume airport, and keeping the control tower and the six employees who staff it is necessary.
Wuellner says the runway is busier than other small airports and estimates 150,000 takeoffs this year from both large and small planes, not including two flight schools that operate out of the facility.
Now that the FAA has delayed the closing date to June, the local airport authority is considering taking over the cost of operating the tower, which is estimated at $500,000 a year.
"We are exploring all the revenue options to offset that cost, like the price of fuel, rents, charges and see if we can overcome that number," said Wuellner
Ultimately, Wuellner hopes the FAA will change course and the need to find the revenue will be unnecessary.
"This is really a stressful time. Its a poorly orchestrated approach to get control of our national budget," Wuellner said. "I think we are compromising air safety for a few dollars."
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