Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today during a hearing on aviation safety said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn't being transparent enough regarding its plans to implement federal budget cuts.
The cuts are a result of the sequester, automatic spending cuts that went into effect this year and that could force the closure of three air traffic control (ATC) towers in West Virginia. Rockefeller in February voted to stop the sequester.
"I have expressed my concern on numerous occasions about the impact closing these towers would have on the communities that depend on them--including three in West Virginia," Rockefeller told a panel that included FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
"I am frustrated with the lack of transparency on how the agency made its decisions, and how it intends to implement budget cuts," Rockefeller said. "West Virginians expect--and deserve--clarity. And Congress has to have a better understanding of the specifics."
Because of the sequester, ATC tower closures could be implemented in West Virginia. If so, three of the state's seven towers--at airports in Wheeling, Parkersburg and Lewisburg--would be forced to shut down. In addition, ATC services at Tri-State Airport in Huntington are scheduled to be cut, which would include the elimination of midnight shifts, as well as those midnight shifts at Yeager Airport in Charleston.
Rockefeller last month sent a letter to the FAA expressing concern just days before the agency announced it would postpone closure of some ATC towers, including those in West Virginia. And last week Rockefeller wrote another letter, co-signed by a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives that included Congressman Nick Rahall, asking the FAA and the Department of Transportation to review its plan in light of its effect on air service in rural communities.
"I appreciate the tough decisions every federal government agency must make these days, but those choices still must be smart, driven by good policy, and not unfairly burden rural communities like those in West Virginia," Rockefeller said.
As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Rockefeller fought last year for a strong reauthorization of the FAA, which makes flights safer, modernizes the nation's ATC system, creates thousands of American jobs and preserved essential funding for West Virginia airports. The FAA reauthorization also preserved the Small Community Air Service Development Pilot Program and the Essential Air Service Program which enable small and rural communities to maintain a level of air service to support economic development and business growth.