By Woodrow Bellamy III
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on Thursday introduced an amendment to the Senate Continuing Resolution that would add enough funds to prevent FAA's planned closure of air traffic control (ATC) towers as a result of sequestration budget cuts.
Blunt's amendment adds $50 million to FAA's operating budget, and allocates the funding to the Air Traffic Organization to keep contract towers operational for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The amendment also rescinds $50 million "unobligated FAA research and capital funds" from prior appropriations bills to keep the agency's spending within "the discretionary caps," Blunt said.
During a recent hearing before the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said 173 contract towers would be closed April 7. Contract towers are those funded by FAA's Contract Tower Program, which was established in the 1980s to enable the agency to contract ATC services to the private sector, mainly at small and medium-sized airports.
Blunt said the amendment would protect all of those towers, as well as the federally funded portion of 16 cost-share towers that would be closed at the end of fiscal year 2013 as a result of the sequester.
"There's a lot in sequestration to criticize, but closing 189 air traffic control towers puts the safety of travelers in jeopardy," said Sen. Rob Wyden (D-Ore.), who is one of seven senators co-sponsoring the bill with Blunt. "This is a smart solution that takes unused FAA funding to keep passengers safe by keeping the towers open."
The amendment, which has received support from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Airlines for America and other industry groups, does not mention whether it would prevent the planned furloughs for the majority of FAA's 47,000 employees.
The Senate is scheduled to take a vote on the Continuing Resolution on Monday.