WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan group of 30 senators have sponsored a bill to prevent the FAA from closing any air traffic control tower in fiscal years 2013 or 2014, while the chairman of the Senate committee concerned with aviation warns all the progress made by the FAA is at risk because of sequestration.
Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) say their Protect Our Skies Act would stop the FAA from closing any tower, either contract or operated by FAA employees. In addition to the 30 Senators supporting the bill, it is also supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and numerous other aviation industry groups.
At a hearing, held Tuesday, April 16, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, told FAA Administrator Michael Huerta there is “a lack of transparency about how the FAA makes decisions on sequestration.”
Rockefeller questioned why 149 contract towers were to be closed while some FAA operated towers with fewer operations were to remain open. The administrator responded that each tower was judged separately with other issues, such as proximity to other airports as a measure.
Huerta stated all FAA employees are to be furloughed on an equal basis with the essential employees taking one furlough day each bi-weekly pay period, the same as non-essential employees.
Rockefeller chided Huerta over what he called a lack of transparency on how the agency intends to implement the budget cuts resulting from sequestration.
“We need to have a better understanding of the specifics,” he told the administrator. “What I do know is that if we fail to reverse the decrease in the FAA’s budget, we will not have the aviation system that we need to compete in the global economy.”
He said sequestration cuts for the FAA mean implementation of NextGen will be delayed, the aerospace industry will suffer as certification of new technology and equipment is slowed, more towers will be closed, and critical safety rulemakings, such as pilot training and qualifications, will take longer.
The long period of short extensions in FAA funding over the last few years took its toll on work in certain areas, Huerta said, and “now we face an even more extreme uncertainty under sequestration.”
Most of the hearing centered on airline safety. However, in a written statement, Dr. Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office, said general aviation safety figures are probably not accurate. Flight activity data limitations impede FAA’s ability to assess GA’s safety record and thereby target risk mitigation efforts.
Rockefeller said he was deferring the subject of general aviation for a later date hearing.