Today, original sponsors U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced that their Protect Our Skies Act -- bipartisan legislation to protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America -- has been cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 30 Senators, and the list continues to grow. The Protect Our Skies Act would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from closing any air traffic control towers during FY 2013 or 2014, including those that are operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
"The fight to protect FAA contract towers has brought together a bipartisan coalition of Senators committed to finding more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety," Sen. Moran said. "Although we were blocked from saving these towers through the appropriations process, we still have the opportunity to protect aviation safety by passing the Protect Our Skies Act. The simple fact that the FAA is able to delay the closures until June shows that the agency's financial state is not as dire as initially projected. We can and should put politics aside and pass this common-sense solution."
"This bipartisan bill would permanently prohibit the Department of Transportation from arbitrarily closing air traffic control towers, including towers at six airports in Connecticut that are vital to jobs, economic growth, and air safety," Sen. Blumenthal said. "The FAA has $50 million necessary to sustain all 149 air traffic control towers, and the closing is a misguided decision causing needless harm to employees, their communities, and regional economies, as well as air travel."
In addition to original sponsors Sens. Moran and Blumenthal, the Protect Our Skies Act is cosponsored by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), David Vitter (R-La.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
The introduction of the Protect Our Skies Act came on the heels of the DOT's decision to close 149 FAA contract control towers as a result of being targeted for sequestration cuts disproportionate to other agencies -- without consideration of the impact on aviation safety. Last Friday, the DOT announced that it will delay their closing until June 15, 2013, due to legal challenges.
Sen. Moran's original 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 even though it had 26 bipartisan cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
Sens. Blumenthal and Moran 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.
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 sequestration.
The Protect Our Skies Act is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and numerous aviation industry groups.