The Federal Aviation Administration says it is moving forward with its plan to shut down the traffic control tower at the Santa Monica Airport in early April.
The SMO tower, which handled about 370 flights a day last year, including by helicopters, prop planes and jets, is one of about 50 towers slated for closure as part of plan to cut $637 million from the FAA budget under sequestration. There are also about 170 contract towers, which are staffed with private contract workers, not FAA employees, on the agency's closure list.
Details about what will happen at SMO, however, are scarce. The FAA still has not made an official announcement about which towers it will shutter, and the city's airport director, Bob Trimborn, said he has been relying on the press for information.
"I’m trying to read through the lines and keep in touch with the FAA," he said. "I’ve got calls in to various personnel in the agency to try to keep up with this, because it changes every day."
Though the airport would remain open, Trimborn has said the loss of the FAA tower would make operations less efficient.
There are protocols in place, he said, for pilots to take off and land without a tower. They would communicate their positions over a common radio frequency, instead of relying on controllers to clear their arrivals and departures.
"We've closed [the tower] at 9 p.m. every night for decades upon decades," he said. "Being closed throughout the day has different ramifications."
Two local anti-airport neighborhood groups are lobbying Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) to support the tower's closure.
A letter by attorney Jonathan Stein, on behalf of Citizens Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic and Sunsest Park Anti-Airport, Inc., says the FAA is wasting money on SMO.
"We urge the FAA to leave open other FAA towers and facilities in preference to SMO, where there is a long history of declining flight operations and growing community opposition," the letter states.
According to the city, the FAA's records show a steady decline in tower operations since the peak in 1999, when there were 230,230. In 2012, theere were 116,311 operations.
In a speech Wednesday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said each of the towers on the closure list has fewer than 150,000 total flight operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial flight operations per year. (An operation is either one take off or one landing.)
Nearly every FAA employee, there are about 47,000, will be furloughed one day every two weeks from April to September, Huerta said, meaning controllers working in towers that do remain open would work fewer hours.
"Flights to major cities like New York,Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays up to 90 minutes during peak hours," he said. "This will have ripple effects throughout the United States."