The Department of Transportation publicly confirmed May 10 that it will keep the 149 federal contract towers slated for closure June 15 open until the end of the fiscal year. Congress and the White House granted the FAA the budgetary flexibility needed to move $253 million of unobligated Airport Improvement Program funds into the operations budget to keep employees on the job and contract towers operating. Additionally, the DOT announced that it would “put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate approximately $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.”
The funding gets the FAA through until Oct. 1 when a new round of sequestration-induced budget cuts will take effect if Congress doesn’t take action before then.
“We are pleased that the FAA has decided to use the flexibility granted by Congress to keep 149 air traffic control towers open and operating as lawmakers intended,” said AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller. “The decision helps ensure the continued safety and efficiency of our general aviation airports and the national air transportation system as a whole.”
The House and Senate had passed bills to give the FAA the flexibility to move the funding with the intent of ending air traffic controller furloughs and keeping contract towers open. However, after the agency received the flexibility, it ended all furloughs but remained mum on the topic of contract towers.
In addition to Congress, local municipalities with affected towers, pilots, and aviation associations including AOPA have working for months to find solutions to force the FAA to keep the contract towers open. Local governments and at least on individual files lawsuits to keep the towers open, which contributed to the FAA’s decision to delay the planned closures from April to June. On May 6, AOPA filed an amicus curiae brief as part of a federal lawsuit against the FAA stating that its plan to close federal contract towers was “arbitrary, capricious, and fundamentally flawed, leaving the safety and efficiency consequences largely unknown.”
“The entire aviation community has worked diligently for this outcome,” Fuller said. “We hope that any future spending cuts necessitated by sequestration will be made only after a comprehensive and thoughtful evaluation of their impact on system users.”