Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed an announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will stop its planned June closure of 149 air traffic control contract towers -- including five in Washington state.
The announcement comes on the heels of legislation signed into law by President Obama last week allowing the FAA to transfer up to $253 million from other accounts within the agency in order to keep the contract towers open through the end of fiscal year 2013. Cantwell was a leading advocate of keeping the contract towers open and pushed the FAA to use the flexibility granted to the agency by the recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 to keep the contract towers open.
Without today's action, the 149 towers were slated for closure on June 15. The five Washington state towers slated for closure were: Renton Municipal Airport, Tacoma Narrows Airport, Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field, Felts Field in Spokane, and Olympia Regional Airport. View the full list here.
"This is great news for travelers across the nation and for our regional economy," Cantwell said. "The FAA has made the right decision to keep the contract towers open for the remainder of the fiscal year. Having the tower at Felts Field in Spokane properly manned is important to Spokane Airport and Fairchild.
"The region's air traffic growth supports local economic development," Cantwell continued. "The contract tower at Renton Airport supports Boeing's operations, and becomes even more critical as the company further increases its production rates of the Boeing 737."
The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 passed the U.S. Senate on April 25 and the U.S. House on April 26, and was signed into law by President Obama on May 1. It allows the FAA to transfer up to $253 million in funding from other accounts within the department to the FAA in order to end the furloughs for 47,000 FAA employees and end the planned closure of 149 contract towers.
Cantwell has been a leading advocate of keeping the contract towers open. On May 3, she sent a bipartisan letter with 40 other Senators urging DOT and the FAA to use the flexibility from the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 to stop the planned closure of the 149 contract towers. During a Commerce Committee hearing on aviation safety on April 16, Cantwell questioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta about the potential impact to Washington state communities of FAA budget cuts to air traffic control tower programs. On April 12, Cantwell sent a letter with a bipartisan group of six other Senate and House aviation leaders urging the FAA to prevent the closure of 149 air traffic control towers across the country.