U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) continued his push on the Senate floor this morning to save Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Contract Control Towers and asked Senate Democratic Leadership to put the safety of Americans before politics and allow a vote on his amendment to stop the planned FAA funding cuts to 179 air traffic control towers in 42 states. If U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) continues to block Sen. Moran's amendment, which has 26 bipartisan Senate cosponsors -- air traffic control towers across the country will close on April 7, 2013, and put the safety of Americans in jeopardy.
"The real issue here is about the safety of Americans," Sen. Moran said. "If it's true that the reason this amendment is not being considered is because we want to prove a point that there is no money to be cut -- that sequestration is a bad idea then it's a very dangerous way to try to prove a point."
"Prove your point in the argument and debate about the merits of spending " Sen. Moran continued. "Prove your point in the Appropriations Committee where we take testimony and hear from people about what has value and what doesn't. But don't try to make the political point by reducing the safety of people who fly in and out of communities across the country. Once there is an accident, and somebody dies and a plane crashes, the question will always be "what if there had been an air traffic control tower there? What if we had left the program in place?"
Sen. Moran pointed to an Associated Press story published yesterday titled "Trouble in the air." Reporter Jason Keyser notes, "the planned shutdown of nearly 240 air traffic control towers across the country will strip away an extra layer of safety during takeoffs and landings, leaving pilots to manage the most critical stages of flight on their own. Airport directors and pilots say there is little doubt the removal of that second pair of eyes on the ground increases risk and will slow the progress that has made the U.S. air system the safest in the world."
The article also provides an example of a past crash that exposed a weakness in the system: "On Nov. 19, 1996, a 19-seat United Express flight landing in Quincy, Ill., collided with another twin-engine turbo-prop that was taking off. They slammed into each other at the intersection of two runways, killing all 14 people aboard the two planes."
Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., commented, "If a tower was there, it's highly likely that that accident would have been prevented."
Sen. Moran's amendment would withdraw $50 million in unobligated FAA research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills. The $50 million is based on FAA Administrator Huerta's statement when testifying to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he stated that the FAA's plan to close 173 contract towers on April 7, 2013 will save up to $50 million.
A report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under the sequestration.
Sen. Moran's amendment is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and numerous aviation industry groups.