Feb 23, 2013 1:06 PM by MTN News
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that the looming "sequestration" - federal budget cuts - may trigger the closure of scores of air traffic control towers across the country, including two in Montana.
A memo from the agency says that the airports in Helena and in Kalispell are among the dozens that could be affected.
Among the factors considered for an airport to be included on the list is having fewer than 150,000 "flight operations" per year.
The closure of an air traffic control facility does not necessarily mean that an airport will be closed, but flight operations will be affected.
Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman for the FAA Northwest Mountain & Alaska Regions, tells us that, "The FAA does not close airports."
The memo also states that the FAA is working with unions to eliminate midnight shifts in over 60 towers across the country, although it is not yet known if any Montana airports would be affected by that.
In addition, many of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees may be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year.
A letter from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says that in addition to possible closures, the effects of budget cuts could mean lengthier delays for air passengers across the country.
LaHood writes, "Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff. Delays in those major airports will ripple across the country."
We are awaiting further clarification from airport and federal officials about how such a move might affect Helena and Kalispell operations, and will keep you updated.
Click here to see the complete list of air traffic control facilities that may be affected.