Congressman Richard E. Neal welcomed the decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to keep open the air traffic control tower at Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield despite forced federal spending cuts. On Friday, the FAA announced that it was closing 149 contract towers around the country due to $630 million in mandatory spending cuts that began earlier in the month.
The agency said the closures, which affect nearly one-third on the nation's federal contract towers, will be completed in April. An additional 40 towers that were being targeted for cuts by the FAA, including Barnes, will remain open for now.
"I could not be more pleased that Barnes was spared from these serious spending cuts. The security mission of the airport, and the important role the 104th Fighter Wind plays in defending our nation, simply cannot be minimized. It is an invaluable asset on the East Coast for both civilian and military aircrafts. Closure of the control tower at Barnes would also have put our region's public safety and aviation security in serious jeopardy. The FAA made the right decision," said Congressman Richard E. Neal.
On Wednesday, Neal joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in sending a letter to the FAA expressing concern with the planned closure of approximately 189 contract air traffic control towers nationwide due to sequestration budget cuts. They were particularly concerned about proposed cuts to airports in Massachusetts. The full text of the letter can be found below:
March 20, 2013
Michael P. Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
RE: DOT/FAA Announcement to Close ATC Contract Towers
Dear Administrator Huerta:
We are writing to express our concern regarding the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) announcement to close a number of contract air traffic control (ATC) towers due to the federal budget sequestration. As you probably know, six of those towers service Massachusetts airports; Norwood, New Bedford, Lawrence, Beverly, Worcester and Westfield-Barnes.
These regional airports and their ATC towers are key elements in the national air transportation system and critical to our national security. Closing the ATC towers will jeopardize the safety of the flying public as well as that of residents within a certain proximity to these airports, have a negative impact on regional economies and threaten our military readiness.
The six airports in Massachusetts accommodate a significant mix of commercial, medical, private and military aircraft and flight services; three of the six reside within the Class B controlled airspace of Logan International Airport and serve as critical reliever-category airports. The ATC tower operations allow for safe arrivals and departures, prevent mid-air collisions, and maintain the safety and efficiency of our national airspace system through critical flight training programs. Combined, the six towers manage hundreds of thousands of operations annually.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board place high importance on implementing Safety Management Systems (SMS). We believe that cutting the Federal Contract Tower program and closing these ATC towers is contrary to a safety-first approach. In addition, over the past three decades, the Federal Contract Tower program has represented one of the agency's most cost-effective safety initiatives. Quite frankly, this decision by the FAA appears to make neither fiscal nor operational sense.
We agree on the need to identify means through which to improve our current fiscal situation. But any such effort should not jeopardize the safety, security and economic well-being of our citizens. These six ATC towers and others around the country are critical to the continued successful operation of their respective airports and to the regions they serve, and vital to our national interests. The Federal Contract Tower program's cost effectiveness and flight safety enhancements are a proven success. At the very least a safety risk assessment should be conducted at each individual facility prior to any final decision regarding ATC tower closings.
We strongly urge you to carefully consider the critical importance of the Federal Contract Tower program before taking final action on closing any air traffic control towers.