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Santa Fe and Hobbs likely to lose airport towers

Friday - 3/8/2013, 11:40am  ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has notified airports in Santa Fe and Hobbs as well as the general aviation field in west Albuquerque that they will lose funding for their control towers unless they prove a pressing national interest for being spared the federal budget-cutting ax.

FAA officials said a final decision on which towers will lose their funding will be made next week, but the bar for exemption is high.

"Negative impact on the 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 wrote to 189 airports across the country that use contract rather than FAA controllers. "The FAA is unable to consider local community impact that does not affect the national interest."

The tower closures are in response to automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts that took effect this month.

It is unclear how tower closings could impact commercial traffic at the Santa Fe and Hobbs airports. Local governments could opt to fund the towers themselves, but officials in Santa Fe and Hobbs airports did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Officials with United and American Airlines have declined to say whether they will continue to service Santa Fe and Hobbs if their towers are closed.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said last week officials are concerned about what long-term impact a tower closure could have on the capital city and tourism destination that has just in the past few years won back commercial jet service with American flights to Dallas and Los Angeles. And it is expecting United service to Denver to begin in May.

"We've worked very hard for about 10 years -- since 9/11 -- to get (commercial jet service) back," said Coss. "Our master plan called for three commercial airlines. We were finally going to achieve that this year."

The Roswell airport, which is served by American, was also targeted for potential closure. But it is staffed with FAA employees so any decision about that airport will come later, an FAA spokesman said.


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