The control tower at Hilton Head Island Airport will remain open through May 5 -- nearly a month longer than Beaufort County officials first thought.
The extension eliminates potential problems during the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, which is typically the busiest week of the year at the county-owned airport. This year's PGA Tour event is April 15 to 21.
The FAA announcement Wednesday confirms rumors circulating for days that the tower would remain open until sometime in May.
"It gives us a little sense of relief in knowing that the tower will be able to remain open during Beaufort County's and Hilton Head Island's largest sporting event," acting airport director Rob McFee said in a statement.
The FAA is cutting funding for 149 contractor-run control towers across the U.S., including Hilton Head's, as part of sequestration, the $85 billion in federal budget cuts. Until Tuesday, the county believed the tower would shut down April 7.
The FAA will close 24 towers on that date and another 46 on April 21. The remaining towers are to close May 5.
The agency says airport operators can continue running the towers outside the federal air-traffic control network. The FAA said it will begin collecting equipment from shuttered towers about 90 days after funding ends.
The Hilton Head tower is operated by Robinson Aviation of Oklahoma City, which runs 96 towers around the country. The tower is staffed 14 hours a day and lacks radar.
It will be up to the company to determine what happens to affected employees, the FAA said.
A Robinson Aviation official said this week it won't comment on the closings.
County officials are exploring how much it would cost to keep the tower open for certain periods, such as the July 4 holiday week or next year's Heritage golf tournament.
That assessment continues, and the notification of the official closing date gives the county "an opportunity to explore all possibilities," county administrator Gary Kubic said Wednesday.
"It also allows the county time to converse with the Airports Board and the Town of Hilton Head Island on how to proceed," Kubic added. "The county will do its due diligence with this matter and hopefully have more answers in the next few weeks."
It remains unclear how much it would cost to continue running the tower. The county has sought a quote from Robinson Aviation.
The airport, which serves commercial, private and general aviation, can function safely without a tower, the county says. The facility operated smoothly for years without air-traffic control service, which was added in 2005 when the tower was built.
Prior to 2005, a temporary air-traffic control tower was installed at the airport for many years for the Heritage.
- Heritage, Hilton Head may be asked to help fund airport tower, March 26, 2013
- FAA: Hilton Head Airport control tower closing April 7, March 22, 2013