U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led 39 of their Senate colleagues today in calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to immediately use the flexibility outlined in S. 853, the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, to end the planned closure of 149 contract towers due to disproportionate sequestration cuts. The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, which passed Congress last week, provided funding authority to the FAA to not only end the furloughs of tens of thousands of FAA personnel, but also to keep all 149 contract towers open.
"The contract tower program is a vital public safety and economic development asset for dozens of communities -- many of them rural -- in every corner of the country," the Senators wrote in a letter to Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "The disruption that the combined closure of 149 contract towers would have starting June 15th would certainly go against the recently enacted legislation which allows you to "prevent reduced operations and staffing of the FAA during FY 2013 to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system.'"
"By providing up to $253 million in funding authority -- far above the amount required to prevent furloughs -- Congressional intent is clear: FAA must prevent the slated closure of 149 contract towers by fully funding the contract tower program," the Senators concluded.
"The Contract Tower Program is one of the most efficiently-run programs in the FAA, and it should be protected," Sen. Moran said. "Secretary LaHood has told Congress that the $253 million in additional funding flexibility provided to the FAA by the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 is enough to protect both air traffic controllers and the 149 contract control towers. This letter makes Congress' intent unequivocally clear, and I am hopeful the FAA will soon announce that it is using the additionally flexibility given to them by Congress to stop the control tower closures. Anything short of ending the contract tower closures in addition to the furloughs would ignore the flexibility outlined in the Section 2(c) of the legislation."
"The planned closures were unwise, unfair and unnecessary, causing harm to the residents who work at these airports and the regional economies that depend on their services. It is my strong belief -- shared by many of my colleagues in the Senate -- that legislation passed last week unequivocally provides the FAA with the funding authority needed to keep open 149 contract towers, including the six slated for closure in Connecticut. The contract tower program is vital to public safety and economic development, and I am pleased Congress has acted to avert these harmful cuts. This letter removes any uncertainty as to the intent of the legislation, and I am confident the FAA will act accordingly and preserve funding for the contract tower program," Sen. Blumenthal said.
The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 was passed last week unanimously by the Senate and by a strong bipartisan majority in the House. The bill directs the FAA use its flexibility to find savings elsewhere in their budget rather than target air traffic controllers for furloughs. The bill was crafted to provide the FAA with more than enough funding flexibility to protect the 149 contract control towers slated for closure as well.
In addition to Blumenthal and Moran, the letter is signed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Tom Udall (D-N.M), David Vitter (R-La.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
A copy of the letter follows.
May 2, 2013
The Honorable Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
The Honorable Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta:
As you know, Congress recently passed legislation giving the Secretary of Transportation the flexibility needed to avert air traffic controller furloughs and contract tower closures. We urge you to ensure that in addition to ending furloughs for 47,000 FAA employees, the agency also end the planned closure of 149 contract towers. This legislation gives FAA the flexibility and funding it needs to do both. Anything short of ending both the furloughs and contract tower closures would ignore the flexibility outlined in Section 2 (c). Our support of this legislation was based on the understanding that the contract towers could be fully funded.
While ending furloughs for tens of thousands of FAA personnel is a common sense decision due to the impact that flight delays had on the traveling public, we are equally concerned about the status of the contract tower program. The contract tower program is a vital public safety and economic development asset for dozens of communities -- many of them rural -- in every corner of the country. These municipalities depend on the contract tower program to provide commercial and general aviation services, jobs, and in many cases, support for a variety of air ambulance facilities. The disruption that the combined closure of 149 contract towers would have starting June 15th would certainly go against the recently enacted legislation, which allows the U.S. Department of Transportation to "prevent reduced operations and staffing of the FAA during FY 2013 to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system."
By providing up to $253 million in funding authority -- far above the amount required to prevent furloughs -- Congressional intent is clear: the FAA should prevent the slated closure of 149 contract towers by fully funding the contract tower program.