When President Obama signed bipartisan legislation Tuesday that suspended furloughs for air traffic controllers, he also threw a lifeline to 149 contract towers that were slated to be closed. The measure that was approved last Friday just before lawmakers all headed for airports to return to their home districts allowed the FAA to shift $253 million from its Airport Improvement Program to cover the salaries of controllers who were set to be furloughed this summer.
Although the President signed the bill, he let his displeasure be known. “Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by shifting money that’s designed to repair and improve airports over the long term to fix the short-term problem,” he said. “Well, that’s not a solution. Essentially what we’ve done is, we’ve said in order to avoid delays this summer, we’re going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades.”
The FAA announced Saturday that it had suspended all employee furloughs and expected normal operations to resume by Sunday evening.
The bill also allows the agency to keep open 149 control towers at small and medium-size airports that were slated to be shuttered for budgetary reasons. Furloughs were blamed for thousands of flight delays last week.