Congress continues to question contract tower closings

April 18, 2013

It was a bipartisan affair as transportation leaders in the House and Senate continued to express disappointment with the FAA’s decision to close 149 air traffic control towers under automatic budget cuts required by sequestration.

In an April 11 letter, leaders of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation expressed concern that the FAA has still not addressed the impact that its decision to close towers may have on aviation system safety or efficiency. The agency on April 5 announced it would delay closing 149 contract air traffic control towers until June 15, while it works to resolve state and local concerns about the shutdowns, as well as resolve legal challenges to the closures.

In their letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the group said, “We are profoundly disappointed with the decision of the FAA to target 149 FAA contract control towers for closure on June 15. We ask that you identify lower priority spending elsewhere in the FAA’s budget for reduction. … It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety data and study.”

They also said they were deeply concerned that the FAA has been premature in its decision because it had not addressed the impact the tower closings may have on aviation system safety or efficiency, despite the serious concerns expressed by elected representatives in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis. In addition, they pointed out that local officials, business leaders, airports, air traffic controllers, general aviation operators and businesses, state aviation officials, and other concerned citizens had weighed in with the FAA on a need for adequate data and study of safety concerns.

Those signing the letter were Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-W.Va.), and Senate aviation subcommittee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and House aviation subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

Shuster, Rahall, and LoBiondo in a separate statement said, “Right now we have more questions than answers, and we remain concerned about the safety of the aviation system and the general public. We still don’t know what impacts closing these air traffic control towers will have, and to ensure that safety remains the top priority, the agency needs to focus intently on finding savings in other areas of its budget.”

“We appreciate the efforts and leadership among these members of Congress,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “This group has a profound impact on the aviation industry, as all matters that concern aviation are brought under the jurisdiction of their respective committees.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.