The air traffic control tower at Francis S. Gabreski Airport was spared Friday as the FAA shut 149 others nationwide because of mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The FAA determined that the tower in Westhampton Beach would stay open because closure would have a "negative impact on the national interest," the agency said in its announcement.
The 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard is based at Gabreski Airport with 11 aircraft. The unit was the first National Guard unit to respond to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said Anthony Ceglio, airport manager. More recently, members of the unit responded to superstorm Sandy.
The FAA had proposed closing Gabreski on April 7.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Gabreski is not "just any airport," and called Gabreski "essential to military training and disaster relief efforts."
"Furthermore, as a gateway to the East End, the airport is crucial to sustaining the local economy," Bellone said in a statement.
National-interest consideration included threats to U.S. security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the military and Department of Homeland Security, the FAA said.
Gabreski is one of 24 federal contract towers that had been on a proposed closure list because of sequestration cuts of $637 million. Another 16 contract towers that had been targeted for closure will also remain open because congressional statute sets aside money for these towers, the FAA said.
"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
"Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."
Gabreski Airport averages one flight operation every three minutes in summer. Contract employees paid by the FAA staff its air traffic control tower. Gabreski's tower could have been closed under mandatory federal spending cuts, according to the FAA.
There are 189 such air traffic control towers operated by contract employees nationwide. A total of 149 such air traffic control towers will be closed under sequestration, the FAA said.