December 16, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
AOPA has learned from several sources that that the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is pressuring the FAA to eliminate funding for contract control towers serving general-aviation-only airports under across-the-board cuts to federal agencies to be included in President Barack Obama’s Fiscal 2013 budget request.
If adopted, the OMB recommendation would eliminate roughly half of the 248 contract towers now operating; this move is viewed as a repercussion of the failure of a congressional "super committee" to agree on a compromise deficit-cutting plan last month.
Sources said that the preliminary OMB proposal—which reportedly remains a subject of internal debate within the Obama administration—would preserve funding for contract (non-federal) control towers at airports with scheduled airline service, or with 10,000 military operations a year.
On Friday, AOPA was drafting a letter to the House and Senate members of the GA Caucus, urging them to oppose any effort to shut down control towers at GA airports.
The American Association of Airport Executives, which created the U.S. Contract Tower Association, warned of “devastating” effects of the cuts.
“The federal government's budget constraints should not impact such a critical aviation safety initiative like the FAA contract tower program,” it said.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) urged the office to reconsider, saying in a letter that cost-saving opportunities from the contract tower program "make good budgetary sense."
Mica stressed that spending cuts "should be focused on inefficient and ineffective programs. The FAA Contract Tower Program does not fall into this category and I therefore urge you to reconsider."
AOPA will closely follow developments on the reported OMB proposal and report on it to members as developments require.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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