By Jolene Craig
In another effort to keep the nation's airports and airspace safe, a West Virginia representative is backing legislation to provide funding to air traffic control towers.
On Tuesday, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., co-sponsored the Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act to restore and provide funding to the 149 air traffic control towers scheduled to close as part of the sequestration, including three West Virginia airports in Wheeling, Lewisburg and Parkersburg.
"I am thrilled that both the House of Representatives and the Senate are working together to support the country's airports," said Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport manager Terry Moore. "I think this falls right in with the various methods of support we have been getting from (Washington) D.C."
If passed, the Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act will restore and provide funding to the 149 air traffic control towers across the country scheduled to close in June as part of across-the-board budget cuts.
"Political decisions like this one can have a devastating effect on communities like Wheeling and Parkersburg," McKinley said. "The Obama Administration is putting millions of Americans at risk to make a political point rather than finding waste and duplication to cut at the FAA."
The legislation will restore funding for the contractor-operated air traffic control towers by using money in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget, if passed.
McKinley said the FAA spends more than $500 million annually on consultants and another $200 million on employee travel and supplies.
"Over the last nine years, the FAA has ignored 555 recommendations from its inspector general that could save millions of dollars," the congressman said. "This is no reason to put the safety of millions of Americans at risk by closing air traffic towers."
Moore said he is pleased to know West Virginia representatives in the federal government are openly working in the best interest of the flying public.
"I am glad to see McKinley support the airports, especially since the towers at the Wheeling and Parkersburg airports are in his district," Moore said. "Not only that, but I am more pleased to see there is a bill in the House to complement a similar bill in the Senate, so things can be resolved quickly and in the best way possible."
This bill is the latest effort by federal, state and local officials to keep the towers in operation.
Last week Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., sent a bipartisan letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stating the agencies' sequestration implementation is disproportionately hurting air traffic control service in rural communities. The letter was co-signed by a bipartisan group of seven congressional representatives.
"By lawmakers continually making moves and doing what they can in an effort to keep the towers going they are keeping the issue in the forefront of the news," Moore said. "If they tried to do everything at once the issue would fall away and eventually die, which is not what we want to see happen.
"As long as those in Washington, D.C., continue to work on saving the towers, there is hope," he said.
The bill has bipartisan support and is backed by the American Association of Airport Executives, National Air Transportation Association, and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The tower at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is listed as one of those to be closed this spring because of the FAA's required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration, unless airports continue operations as a non-federal contract tower.