Both the Boca Raton and North Perry airport control towers will remain open until at least June 15, giving local officials time to fight against their closures.
The two airports were on a list of 149 airport nationwide that were slated to have their control towers shut down over the next month, the result of federal sequestration cuts. The airports would have become uncontrolled airfields, where pilots would use see-and-avoid rules.
But the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday granted a temporary reprieve to all.
"The first reaction is a sigh of relief," said Kim Whalen, spokeswoman for the Boca Raton Airport, which had been scheduled to close on May 4. "The second reaction is this isn't over yet; we need to keep fighting."
"Isn't this great news?" said Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, who has been leading the fight to keep North Perry tower open; it originally had been slated to close on Saturday night.
The Boca Raton Airport Authority this week decided to sue the FAA to keep the tower open. Despite the reprieve, the lawsuit was filed on Friday and will move forward, Whalen said.
At the same time, the Boca Raton officials will continue seeking money from the state Department of Transportation to fund the tower, said Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie.
"Every day the FAA continues to fund our tower is wonderful, so we can find a strategy to keep it open permanently," said Haynie, whose husband, Neil, keeps a single-engine Piper Arrow based at the airport.
To keep the tower open at North Perry, in Pembroke Pines, the Broward County Commission this week voted to provide $43,000 per month until Sept. 30, the end of the county's fiscal year. The money would come from the airport's operating fund, not tax dollars.
For now, the Broward County Aviation Department still plans to fund the tower from June 15 through the end of September. However, in light of the FAA's extension, the county might reconsider its vote, Gunzburger said.
Further, she said county will try to convince the FAA that North Perry should remain open based on its busy traffic numbers. She said the airport sees more than 150,000 takeoffs and landings per year, and the FAA had opted to shutdown towers at airports with less than that number.
Her ultimate hope: "By June 15, Congress will have come to its senses and gotten rid of sequestration."
The FAA said it must close the towers to cut $637 million from its budget. The agency said the June 15 extension will allow it to time for "multiple" legal challenges and ensure pilots are familiar with uncontrolled airport procedures.
"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Safety is our top priority."
Closing the towers would hurt both Boca Raton and North Perry financially because some businesses might move to airports with towers, notably companies that operate jets or corporate planes.
But local officials are more concerned that without towers, the two airports would risk seeing increased accidents. Both airports are in metropolitan areas teeming with air traffic, and several planes could approach at once without anyone to guide them in an orderly fashion.
Other problems: Fast corporate jets could conflict with slow planes, and many pilots are unaccustomed to uncontrolled airport procedures.
The Boca Raton Airport handles about 51,000 takeoffs and landings per year, and more than 40 percent of those are made by fast corporate jets. The rest of the traffic is slower general aviation planes.
Airport officials say it's a mix that already has proven deadly; in June 2000, before the current tower was operating, a Learjet and an aerobatic plane collided three miles southwest of the airport, killing four.
"We'll take the time and try to make the best of it," she said. "But it's a temporary solution as far as I'm concerned."
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