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FAA delays shutting down airport towers

Friday, the FAA said it will delay tower closings until June 15 for 149 airports across the country, including Columbia Regional.

The facility in Columbia was scheduled to shut down May 5. Jefferson City Memorial Airport was spared from the initial round of automatic cutbacks to the federal government.

The FAA is facing $637 million in required cuts. Friday’s changes will allow more time to complete the transition. The agency is also trying to resolve all the lawsuits filed over the closures.

“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.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt toured Columbia Regional Airport and talked to air traffic controllers Friday about the impact cuts will have on the airport.

He said he has worked weeks to prevent the looming deadline.

The senator co-sponsored an amendment aimed at stopping the FAA from targeting air traffic control towers with what he calls “irresponsible sequestration cuts.”

About 50 other facilities are also aiming to fund their towers themselves.

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said Friday the possibility that the city will fund Columbia Regional Airport is not likely.

It takes nearly $400,000 to operate the tower each year, said Matthes, who adds the city’s budget is already in a deficit and will not be able to fund all its operations.

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