Are There Safety Issues Surrounding Sequestration?

 - April 8, 2013, 2:35 PM

Just days before the stranglehold of U.S. government budget sequestration was set to douse the lights at the first 24 contract control towers this week, the FAA last Friday issued a temporary reprieve to any closures until June 15. The agency said it needs more time to address the mounting legal actions the imminent closings have triggered.

The question of whether or not the FAA has adequately addressed safety concerns at the affected airports remains unanswered. In documents presented to a U.S. Court of Appeals, 11 contract tower representatives from across the U.S. challenged the agency to prove it conducted due diligence about how the closings will affect each airport’s safety.

In July 2012, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General announced, “Contract towers reported a lower number and rate of safety incidents. FAA facility evaluations identified fewer deficiencies with contract towers than with similar FAA facilities.” Many regard the contract tower system as one of the most successful and cost-effective public/private partnerships in decades, and as such an unfortunate victim of sequestration.

One source close to the issue who preferred not to be named told AIN, “The FAA had an obligation to analyze the possible safety outcomes at each and every tower it closes.” The Washington, D.C.-based source also said that none of the managers at the first group of towers slated to close reported any contact with the FAA to discuss safety. All towers being closed simply received a set of guidelines to help them through the closing process. In a conference call last week, the FAA said that while the agency has conducted safety audits, the results will not be released. David Grizzle, COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, is reading e-mails from concerned users sent to david.grizzle@faa.gov. Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Transportation has cited safety concerns as justification for its decision to allocate $750,000 per month to fund 14 towers slated to close in the state.