FAA: Hilton Head airport tower to stay open until June

Hilton Head Island Airport's tower.
Hilton Head Island Airport's tower. Staff photo

The air traffic control tower at Hilton Head Island Airport will remain open until June 15, federal officials announced Friday.

The tower at the Beaufort County-owned airport was slated for closure May 5.

The Federal Aviation Administration is cutting funding for 149 contractor-run control towers across the country, as part of across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

The agency announced Friday that all 149 towers will close June 15, instead of in three waves. Some towers were to close as soon as Sunday.

"We were surprised about the date being extended to June 15, but it was a welcomed surprise," county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said.

Some airport operators could decide to fund the towers on their own. County officials are gathering information about the cost of doing so during particularly busy periods, such as holiday weekends or special events.

The tower will be open for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament, April 15 to 21.

The airport, which serves commercial, private and general aviation, can function safely without a tower, the county has said.

The tower is operated by contractor Robinson Aviation of Oklahoma City. It is staffed 14 hours a day and lacks radar. Robinson Aviation, which runs 96 towers across the country, has declined to comment on the closings.

The delay will allow the FAA and airports more time to minimize risks posed by the towers' closings, according to an agency news release.

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the release. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

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