Contract towers to stay open

On Friday, the FAA announced it will keep open the 149 contract towers  the agency slated for closure on June 15.

In a short, prepared statement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that DOT “has determined that the recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the FAA to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep the 149 low activity contract towers originally slated for closure in June open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.”

The government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“The FAA will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate approximately $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system,” he noted.

A budget impasse between Congress and the Obama Administration, known as sequestration, triggered automatic spending cuts that required the FAA to find $253 million in savings. In response, the FAA decided to close 149 contract towers and curtail operations at FAA-operated towers, as well as give every employee in the agency a one-day furlough every pay period. After a few days of delayed flights, Congress stepped in and approved legislation giving the FAA the flexibility to move funds around to keep the towers operating at full capacity

“NATA is very pleased about this and believes it was the correct decision by the FAA. The contract tower program is one of the most cost effective and efficient safety programs under the FAA’s purview,” said Thomas L. Hendricks, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) were instrumental in pushing legislation through Congress that provided FAA with the authority they needed to move these funds, he noted.

“Senator Moran’s leadership in particular was vital to getting this done and we thank him and the other 41 Senators who supported his tremendous work,” added Hendricks.

“Saving the contract tower program from extinction by using existing federal funds was accomplished by strong leaders in Congress and an impressive grass roots effort from across the country initiated by a coalition led by the U.S. Contract Tower Association, the National Air Transportation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association,” he concluded.

AOPA officials also welcomed the news.

“We are pleased that the FAA has decided to use the flexibility granted by Congress to keep 149 air traffic control towers open and operating as lawmakers intended,” said President Craig Fuller. “The decision helps ensure the continued safety and efficiency of our general aviation airports and the national air transportation system as a whole. The entire aviation community has worked diligently for this outcome, and we hope that any future spending cuts necessitated by sequestration will be made only after a comprehensive and thoughtful evaluation of their impact on system users.”

There are about 500 control towers in the United States, and 251 of them are contract control towers operated by private companies. The contract tower program is recognized among the FAA’s most cost effective and successful programs in the history of the agency, Fuller noted.

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