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Budget cuts close down 5 airport towers in state

The Federal Aviation Administration will close 149 air traffic control towers, including 12 in New England, beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s $637 million share of automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

Originally, 189 towers were on the chopping block, but 40 were spared for various reasons, including the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport tower in Westfield.

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All the small and midsize towers that will shut down — including six in Connecticut, five in Massachusetts, and one in New Hampshire — are federal contract towers, meaning employees operate under FAA standards but are not FAA employees. The Massachusetts airports losing controllers are Beverly, New Bedford, Lawrence, Worcester, and Norwood.

The airports will remain open, but instead of relying on controllers for clearance to take off and land, pilots will communicate their position on an airport radio frequency.

Westfield-Barnes was able to keep operating its tower because units from the Massachusetts Air National Guard and Army National Guard are based at the airport, where they train to fly F-15 jets and Black Hawk helicopters, said airport manager Brian Barnes, (no relation to the facility’s namesake)

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