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FAA to close 5 Mass. airport towers

The air traffic control towers at five Massachusetts airports will soon be closed as part of massive budget-cutting at the Federal Aviation Administration.

The towers at airports in Beverly, New Bedford, Lawrence, Worcester, and Norwood will shut down early next month.

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The closures are among 149 at smaller airports nationwide. The FAA was forced to cut $637 million from its budget as part of $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts.

None of the airports will shut down. Pilots will instead coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency, without help from ground controllers.

The five towers were among six facing the budget ax. The tower at a Westfield airport was spared.

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The Massachusetts congressional delegation had sent a letter to the FAA to protest the closings.

Under orders to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, the agency released a final list Friday of air traffic control facilities that it will close.

The plan has raised concerns since a preliminary list of facilities was released a month ago. Those worries include the impact on safety and the potential financial effect on communities that rely on airports as key economic engines for attracting businesses and tourists.

‘‘We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of non-towered airports,’’ FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic.

All of the airports targeted for tower shutdowns have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations per year. Of those, fewer than 10,000 are commercial flights by passenger airlines.

Airport directors, pilots and others in the aviation sector have argued that stripping away an extra layer of safety during the most critical stages of flight will elevate risks and at the very least slow years of progress in making the U.S. aviation network the safest in the world.

Airlines have yet to say whether they will continue offering service to airports that lose tower staff. Any scaling back of passenger service could have major economic impact for communities.

Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., says without ground controllers as backup the risk to operate ‘‘goes up exponentially,’’ especially at airports like his, which have such a broad mix of aircraft types: everything from privately operated Piper Cubs to the larger passenger planes of United and American airlines.

That an aviation sector as sensitive as air traffic control could become subject to political brinkmanship in Washington was especially frustrating, he said.

Hoping to escape the final cut, he and other airport directors were left to argue with the FAA about whether the closure of their facilities would adversely affect what the agency described in a letter as the ‘‘national interest.’’

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