The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed closing 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15, including 14 towers in Florida — the largest number of facilities affected in one state.
In March, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for the towers as part of $637 million in budget cuts under sequestration.
After the closures were announced, several federal lawsuits were filed and have now been consolidated in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The suits seek review of the FAA's procedures.
The FAA said delaying tower closing would give it additional time "to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges" and that it would give the FAA and airports more time to execute changes to the National Airspace System.
"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."
About 50 airport authorities and other stakeholders have indicated they may fund the tower operations themselves, according to the FAA.
A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin April 7. Now the FAA says it will stop funding all 149 towers on June 15, and will close the facilities unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower.
The closures will not shut down airport operations but could impact the ability of some pilots to use non-controlled facilities.