The air traffic control tower at Hilton Head Island Airport could close because of sequestration, according to a letter Tuesday from the Federal Aviation Administration to Beaufort County.
The FAA anticipates that it will cease funding for on-site air traffic control towers at a "vast majority" of airports with fewer than 150,000 total operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations.
That includes Hilton Head's airport.
A decision is expected by March 18, according to the letter.
"The FAA is reviewing its list of locations where the national interest would be adversely affected by tower closure," the letter states. "Negative impact on national interest is the only criterion the FAA will use for deciding to continue services to an airport that falls below the activity threshold. The FAA is unable to consider local community impact that does not affect the national interest."
The letter says the county can submit information to the FAA on how closing the tower would adversely affect national interests.
The letter also states that although the across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect Friday are driving the closures, continuing annual budget pressure may mean future reductions "such as these."
Commercial flights can still land at the airport if the Hilton Head tower were to close. County spokeswoman Joy Nelson said last week that Hilton Head's airport could rely on Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport to direct aircraft if the local tower is closed. However, no one would be on site to monitor the planes as they depart and land.
Check back with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for more details as they become available and follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey .