Senate committee questions tower closings

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.

Comments

  1. Rick Putnam says

    According to the article, “The administrator (Michael Huerta… head of the FAA) responded that each tower was judged separately with other issues, such as proximity to other airports as a measure.”

    That is absolutely amazing, that cutting out 30 percent of the towers in the USA, that not a single one of them was an FAA staffed tower. Looking at the FAA’s own data, some of FAA staffed towers not on the list for cuts, have only 20% of the traffic of the contract-staffed towers. And at least a few contract towers to be cut are in direct proximity to Class B airspace. My respect for the FAA has gone to zero over this issue.

  2. says

    Don’t you love it when the pendulum swings too far the other way?

    “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.”

    That doesn’t sound very bright. There aren’t ANY towers that should be closed? Really?

    • Henry Kelly says

      It doesn’t seem too bright to me to take an ax to towers based on inadequate information and review. Finally even the FAA acknowledged that after push back. The impact of closings in the Northeast especially along the coast will have safety consequences if it goes through. Does every tower on the list need to stay open? Probably not. Could hours be cut at some, probably yes. Point is rather that slash and gut the system, lets take the time for proper analysis to determine what is safe and prudent. I think if pilots feel that a specific tower that they use is not needed, they should inform the FAA, after they speak with others based there. If some tower is due to close that they feel is required, tell the FAA and your congresspeople. It is past time for the people opposed to the closings to speak up. The one offs out there seem real quick to give an impression that tower closings are no big deal. The majority of pilots, especially in mixed use busy airspaces, feel and know otherwise. They know that closing down the GA tower system will hurt safety and raise more questions in the minds of prospective flyers. Folks better speak up….Apathy, in part, has us a dwindling population as it is, lets not make it even more daunting to fly safely.

      • says

        Hi Henry,

        I don’t disagree with your point about it not being too bright to take an ax to towers based on inadequate information and review. Face it, slashing and gutting without thinking things through —by definition— doesn’t make sense.

        However, it doesn’t make sense to mandate by federal law that all towers be kept open no matter whether there is need or not for them to stay open.

        Both extremes make no sense at all. One extreme sacrifices safety and the other throws away taxpayer money.

        I reserve the right to be apathetic if both sides of an issue refuse to employ common sense.

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