Senator Blunt Co-Sponsors Amendment To Protect Contract Tower Program

Press Release

By:  Mark Pryor Jeff Merkley Jim Moran, Jr. Pat Roberts Mark Kirk Jim Inhofe Roy Blunt Ron Wyden John Boozman Richard Blumenthal
Date: March 14, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) joined Senators Jerry Moran (Kan.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and 7 of their colleagues in introducing an amendment to the Senate Continuing Resolution (CR) that will stop the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) targeting air traffic control towers in sequestration. Irresponsible cuts from sequestration will put the flying public at risk, impair access to rural areas, jeopardize national and civil security missions, and cost jobs.

"At a time when we should be doing everything we can to protect Americans' safety and private sector jobs, the president has failed to plan and neglected to put the American people first," Blunt said. "This amendment is a common-sense way to minimize the impact of sequestration for our economy and to ensure that these cuts do not threaten public safety."

"I am strongly opposed to the FAA's plan to target air traffic control towers across the country, including the towers included in the Contract Tower Program," Moran said. "My amendment to the CR to protect these contract towers is vital to aviation in rural America. I know firsthand the importance of maintaining commercial air service in communities across Kansas, and am frustrated that the Administration has decided to once again play politics that could negatively impact our state's economic future."

"The President is playing politics with public safety by closing contract air traffic control towers across the nation -- six in my state of Oklahoma -- which is why I have joined a bipartisan group of Senators to stop this," Inhofe said. "The post-sequestration FAA operations budget is still nearly $200 million more than it was when President Obama came into office. It is difficult to understand how a 5 percent cut in the FAA budget brought on by sequestration can result in the shutting of all contract towers nationwide. This amendment holds the Administration accountable for the way it implements the budget cuts so that important programs like the contract air traffic control towers are not disproportionately targeted by the President's misguided game to make life more difficult for Americans."

On March 6, 2013, Administrator Huerta testified to the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that his irresponsible plan to close 173 FAA Contract Towers on April 7, 2013, will save $45-50 million. The amendment would protect those towers, as well as the federally funded portion of 16 cost-share towers, which would be closed at the end of FY 2013.

Joining Senator Blunt as cosponsors are Senators Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), John Boozman (Ark.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), and Rob Wyden (Ore.).

"This amendment is a commonsense, deficit neutral approach to ensure Kansans are able to continue flying safely in and out of our state's many regional airports," Roberts said. "We will not stand idly by as the Obama Administration makes arbitrary cuts to essential federal programs in an attempt to harden the blow of sequestration. As Kansans continue managing their own budgets to deal with our nation's economic downturn, so must the federal government, but in a way that does not imperil the safety of rural Americans."

"Passage of this amendment is vital to protecting air traffic control towers at six airports in Connecticut, including one airport that provides commercial service," Blumenthal said. "I will continue my efforts to reverse sequestration and work toward a bipartisan compromise that will avoid these arbitrary across-the-board cuts that threaten to cause job losses at airports and other industries across Connecticut."

"We need a reasonable solution to cuts that will impact contract towers and Americans' air travel ability. Sharing the cost of the cuts to air traffic control evenly, across-the-board is an answer that will minimize the effects on aviation," Boozman said. "It's a shame the Administration has not worked harder to structure cuts in a way that will reduce their impact."

"The federal contract tower program is invaluable to airports across the nation and absolutely vital to many communities in Illinois," Kirk said. "I'm pleased to join in this fiscally-responsible effort that will help keep towers open and operational."

"To put it simply, I'm extremely disappointed in the FAA's irresponsible proposal that levies disproportionate cuts on air traffic control towers throughout Arkansas," Pryor said. "This amendment gives the FAA the resources they need to keep our towers open, protect our skies, and maintain jobs and economic development in our state."
"There's a lot in sequestration to criticize, but closing 189 air traffic control towers puts the safety of travelers in jeopardy," Sen. Wyden said. "This is a smart solution that takes unused FAA funding to keep passengers safe by keeping the towers open."

The amendment does the following:

* Adds $50 million for the FAA Operations Account and allocates the funding to the Air Traffic Organization to ensure that contract towers remain operational in FY 2013;

* Makes clear that the contract tower program and contract tower cost-share program are subject to the same five percent sequestration cut as other programs within the FAA Operations account -- rather than the disproportionate 75 percent reduction that FAA is pursuing;

* Rescinds the $50 million unobligated FAA research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills to keep spending within the discretionary caps;

* Funds more than 95 percent of what is needed to fully fund the contract tower program and the cost-sharing program in FY13 -- based on the pending House and Senate FY 2013 DOT spending bills.

A report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under the sequestration.

The amendment is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and other aviation industry groups.