On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it will cancel the planned closure of 149 airport control towers thanks to the bipartisan bill passed by Congress which unequivocally directed the FAA to find savings elsewhere in their budget rather than target control towers for closure and air traffic controllers for furloughs. Among those saved from closure is the tower at Manhattan Regional Airport which had been scheduled to close initially last month before it was postponed until September.
Other Kansas Air Traffic Control facilities protected from closure by the announcement include: Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka; Hutchinson Municipal in Hutchinson; New Century Air Center in Olathe and Johnson County Executive in Olathe.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Manhattan who had worked hard on the bill issued the following statement:
“It’s been a long fight since our original amendment to prevent the towers from closing and preserve aviation safety was blocked from a vote, but in the end common sense prevailed over politics,” Sen. Moran said. “This victory is thanks to a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Congressmen and women who came together to demonstrate that there are more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety.”
The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 was passed last week unanimously by the Senate and by a strong bipartisan majority in the House. The bill was crafted to provide the FAA with $253 million in additional funding flexibility – more than enough funding flexibility to protect the 149 contract control towers slated for closure in addition to ending the air traffic controller furloughs.
On Thursday, May 2, Sens. Moran and Blumenthal lead a bipartisan letter signed by 41 Senators to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta making clear that anything short of ending both the previously announced furloughs and contract tower closures would ignore the flexibility outlined in Section 2(c) of the legislation.
Sen. Moran’s fight to save contract control towers began in March when he offered the original amendment to the Continuing Resolution (CR) to protect the towers from closure by withdrawing $50 million in unobligated FAA research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills to fund the Contract Control Tower Program. Sen. Moran’s amendment was blocked from a vote by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Obama Administration, even though it had 26 bipartisan cosponsors – 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
Sens. Moran and Blumenthal went on to introduce an amendment to the Senate Democratic Budget Resolution that would make it easier to restore federal funding in FY 2014 for air traffic control towers slated to be closed by the FAA as a result of sequestration. The amendment passed the Senate by unanimous consent – a sign that Sen. Moran’s CR amendment impacting FY 2013 funding would have passed if it wasn’t blocked from a vote.
Sens. Moran and Blumenthal kept pressure on the White House to reverse the disproportionate cuts to the Contract Control Tower Program by introducing the Protect Our Skies Act on April 9 – bipartisan legislation to protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America. The Protect Our Skies Act is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 34 Senators and would prohibit the DOT from closing any air traffic control towers during FY 2013 or 2014, including those that are operated by the FAA. It is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and numerous aviation industry groups.
A report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under sequestration.