With President Obama’s FAA budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 awaiting action by Congress, 11 aviation organizations signed a joint letter to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations committees calling for continued funding for contract air traffic control towers.
“Events in recent months have made it abundantly clear that the FAA contract tower program enjoys strong bipartisan support in both chambers, and we urge Congress to dedicate funding for the program for FY 2014,” reads the letter sent to House Appropriations Committee chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and other ranking committee members.
“Moreover, should sequestration again be applied in FY 2014, we urge Congress to help protect and ensure that the FAA contract tower program is treated equitably and fairly in the process,” the organizations wrote.
Smaller Airports Could Lose Service
Earlier this year, the FAA announced its intent to close 149 federal contract control towers to meet budget curtailment attributable to sequestration, or reduced spending by federal agencies to help curb the nation’s deficit.
Currently, 251 smaller airports in 46 states participate in the program. Together, these 251 towers handle approximately 28 percent of all ATC tower aircraft operations in the U.S., but account for 14 percent of the FAA’s overall budget allotted to total ATC tower operations.
“More important, the safety and efficiency record of the FAA contract tower program has been validated numerous times by the DOT Inspector General, as well as by the National Transportation Safety Board,” the aviation groups wrote.
The FAA scrapped its plan to close the 149 targeted towers after Congress gave the agency the flexibility to move $253 million in unobligated funds from the Airport Improvement Program to the operations account. Without that action, the towers were scheduled to close by June 15, a date set after the FAA abandoned an earlier plan for phased closings in April and May.
Announcement of the temporary reprieve for the contract towers was not immediately forthcoming after the budgeting flexibility was given to the agency to recall furloughed ATC staffers, which had caused nationwide air traffic slowdowns and cancellations near the end of April. Fallout from that uncertainty, which sparked an outcry in the aviation community, was evident in the appeal for equitable treatment of the contract tower program in the coming fiscal year.
“The bottom line is that, absent this highly successful federal program, many local communities and smaller airports would not receive the significant safety benefits of ATC services,” the letters to the lawmakers said.