In the space of less than 24 hours in late April, Congress passed a bill that staved off air traffic controller furloughs and produced “found” money to keep low-activity contract control towers operating. With lawmakers eying another vacation that would officially begin on April 27 and end on May 5, the Senate passed a measure on the night of April 25 that would prevent furloughs of essential FAA employees, including air traffic controllers.
Air Traffic Organization
Despite two previous rejections by lawmakers of the $100-per-flight user fee proposed by President Obama, the White House once again has called for the unpopular levy to be included in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which was released on April 10.
The U.S. Congress moved to relieve the Federal Aviation Administration of its need to furlough air traffic controllers last week after five days of prolonged flight delays at major airports blamed on controller staffing reductions.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has made progress in delivering some of the operational improvements that are envisioned by the NextGen ATC modernization effort. But to demonstrate those improvements sooner, the agency has also made “trade-offs” that could limit their overall benefit to airlines in the coming years, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In an effort to deliver operational improvements more quickly, the FAA has made “trade-offs” in establishing performance-based navigation (PBN) procedures that could limit their benefits in the near term, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
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.
Controller operational errors are on the rise, according to a February 27 audit report from the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General (IG), prompted by requests from the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security and, separately, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. According to FAA data, controller operational errors at the Southern California (SoCal) Tracon, jumped from 33 in FY09 to 189 in FY10, an increase of 473 percent.
The FAA lowered the boom on airports serving mainly GA, business and regional airline traffic, announcing on March 22 that it will close 149 ATC contract towers as part of its effort to slash spending by more than $600 million in the current fiscal year under the federal government’s “sequester” mandate. The action could spell the end of the agency’s 30-year-old contract tower program.
The FAA announced today that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s plan to trim its budget by $637 million in Fiscal Year 2013 under sequestration. Two weeks ago, the FAA released a list of 238 towers potentially facing closure.
Is the FAA’s billion-dollar-a-year NextGen program devolving into a patchwork of technology demonstrations, refined routings to discrete airports and reduced aircraft separations over mainly water? Is the agency’s promised comprehensive overhaul of the National Airspace System chasing its predecessor grand vision—Free Flight—into oblivion?