Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it will delay the closing of 149 airport control towers until June 15, 2013. The first 24 closures had been scheduled for Sunday, April 7, 2013. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who has fought the Administration to save these air traffic control towers from closure, released the following statement in response to FAA's announcement:
"While airports and air travelers across the country are breathing a sigh of relief, the Department of Transportation's decision to delay the closing of air traffic control towers is not a solution," Sen. Moran said. "In order to protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America, Sen. Blumenthal will join me next week in introducing legislation that will prohibit the DOT from closing any air traffic control towers -- including those that are FAA-operated.
"Though my initial amendment was blocked from a vote, it brought together a bipartisan coalition of Senators who demonstrated that there are more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety," Sen. Moran continued. "Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stop lights and stop signs from our roads, and there is no reason they should be disproportionately targeted for an arbitrary and unfair 75 percent cut. It's vital that we seize this opportunity to put politics aside and work toward a common-sense solution."
Sen. Moran's amendment to the Continuing Resolution to withdraw $50 million in unobligated FAA research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills and fund the Contract Control Tower Program was blocked from a vote by the Administration and Senate Democrat Leadership even though it had 26 bipartisan cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
Sens. Moran and Blumenthal (D-CT) also introduced an amendment to the Senate Democratic Budget Resolution that would make it easier to restore federal funding in FY 2014 for air traffic control towers slated to be closed by the FAA as a result of sequestration. The amendment passed the Senate by unanimous consent -- a sign that Sen. Moran's CR amendment impacting FY 2013 funding would have passed if it wasn't blocked from a vote. By the time FY 2014 appropriations bills are passed, it may be too late.
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.
Kansas Air Traffic Control facilities that are on the final closure list include: Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka; Hutchinson Municipal in Hutchinson; New Century Air Center in Olathe; Johnson County Executive in Olathe; and Manhattan Regional in Manhattan.
Sen. Moran's amendment is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and numerous aviation industry groups.