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The Hill - Lawmakers Push FAA to Avoid Closures of Air Traffic Control Towers

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By Pete Kasperowicz

Lawmakers from several states are pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to go beyond its two-month delay in closing 149 air traffic control towers, and to use the delay to find ways to avoid these closures altogether.

On Monday, Connecticut's entire congressional delegation welcomed the FAA's Friday announcement of the delay, but said a two-month delay should not be seen as a final answer.

"The decision to close air traffic control towers was misguided and unnecessary and we will continue to push for every opportunity to reverse this harmful action," the entirely Democratic delegation wrote.

"These closures will put at risk not only public safety, but also our local economies that rely on these airports for jobs and tax revenue. We hope this delay will allow the FAA time to reconsider its decision, and we'll continue to work to make sure they do."

Members from Texas -- where the FAA has proposed closing 13 air traffic control towers to deal with the sequester -- had similar to reactions to the FAA's announcement last week.

"I hope that the FAA's decision to delay the tower closures indicates they are ready to work with our local leaders," Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said over the weekend. "The FAA needs to wisely use the time until June 15 to prioritize cutting true wasteful spending rather than playing politics with a program that has a proven safety record and created real economic growth for our communities."

Republicans in particular have criticized the FAA's plans to close 149 towers as an attempt to make the sequester as painful as possible, as part of the Obama administration's plan to put pressure on the GOP to agree to scrap the cuts altogether, or replace some of the cuts with new taxes.

Late last week, more than 40 members of the House from several states called on the FAA to find new ways to cut $600 million from its budget without closing down air traffic control towers.

"[W]e request for FAA to consider all possible alternatives that would maintain some level of service for all contract air towers and ensure air safety," they wrote in a letter. "These possible alternatives include other ways of reducing spending within the ATO account that would share the burden fairly across all programs, projects, and activities, as well as formally requesting a reprogramming of funds from Congressional appropriators."

That letter was signed by members from Florida and Texas, which would be affected the most by the FAA closures, as well as several other states, including California; Georgia; Illinois; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New York; North Carolina; Oklahoma; Oregon; Utah; Virginia and Wisconsin.

Despite this growing pressure, it's unclear whether the FAA will take this advice. The FAA's Friday announcement that it would delay the closures until June 15 indicated that part of the reason for the delay was to resolve various legal challenges related to the decision.

Several airports have sued the FAA over the closures and, last week, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) sued the FAA.

The FAA also said it would use the time to deal with issues such as risk mitigation related to the closures. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the delay would help the government "make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

The FAA did, however, indicate that the time might also be used to give local authorities more time to fund tower operations themselves.

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