Airport tower closures delayed, but Centennial graveyard shift still ‘moving target’

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced it will delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air-traffic control towers until June 15, and Centennial Airport Executive Director Robert Olislagers says he kind of expected it.

According to an April 5 FAA statement, the additional time will give the agency an opportunity to resolve mounting legal challenges to the closure decisions that stem from the agency’s attempt to trim $637 million from the budget as part of federal sequestration.

“I am not surprised by the date change, as the FAA has made several changes to dates and I can only speculate as to the reasons why.” Olislagers said.

The agency noted that as part of the tower closure process, it will consult with airports and operators to review appropriate risk mitigations and give the FAA, as well as airports, more time to make changes to the National Airspace System, which oversees the nation’s air traffic.

In March, four Colorado airport towers were on the FAA’s hit list; Broomfield and Front Range were designated for closure, and Centennial and Colorado Springs for elimination of the overnight shift.

When the final list came out, neither Front Range nor Broomfield appeared on the list.

“There were two closure lists,” explained Olislagers, who has been critical of the FAA’s sweeping decisions. “The contract tower closure list got all the attention because of its quick deadline and because it affected airports unilaterally.”

The second list involved nighttime shutdowns of some 160 towers, including Centennial’s.

“The tower is in the process of conducting a staffing study in relation to its operating hours, which is currently 24/7,” Olislagers said.

If the FAA follows its initial proposal, Centennial would cease overnight operations, shutting down from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The results of that study are expected sometime in early summer.

“We are right on the cusp,” Olislagers said. “We will make a concerted effort to keep the tower open.”

He said the FAA’s final decision is due in June or July, “but don’t hold your breath.”