Not long after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's meeting in Lakeland, Florida with local airport officials from across the state, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would delay plans to immediately close control towers at 14 small airports statewide. But, the FAA says it's still planning to go ahead with the closings in June.
So today, a group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators - including Nelson -- unveiled legislation they filed last night aiming to block federal aviation officials from closing 149 air traffic control towers nationwide, including the 14 in Florida, along with six in Connecticut and five in Kansas.
Those are the three states represented by the bill's chief cosponsors, Nelson (D-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). The three serve on the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"The loss of air traffic controllers at these towers poses a real public safety issue and a threat to local business and commerce," said Nelson, a senior member of the committee.
Also, many of the regional airports serve not only business and commerce, but law enforcement, air ambulances and search and rescue operations, as well. They're not low-priority operations, Nelson added.
The towers in Florida facing the budget axe are Lakeland's Linder Airport, Naples Municipal, Boca Raton, New Smyrna Beach Municipal, Page Field in Fort Myers, North Perry in Hollywood, Leesburg International, Ocala International-Jim Taylor Field, Ormond Beach Municipal, Punta Gorda, Northeast Florida Regional in St. Augustine, Albert Whitted in St. Petersburg, Witham Field in Stuart and Space Coast Regional in Titusville.
Specifically, the lawmakers' bill - called The Protect Our Skies Act - prohibits the FAA administrator from closing any air traffic control towers, including both those that are operated by the FAA and FAA contractors.
Meantime, some of the airports have sued to block the FAA's action. And last week, Nelson met with officials from some of Florida's small airports at Lakeland Linder. There, they discussed ways around the closings. The concerns he heard spurred him to introduce legislation, he said.
The first chance to discuss the legislation could come at a Commerce hearing on aviation safety set for April 16.