Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, hailed today's passage of bipartisan legislation to end the flight delays that travelers have needlessly experienced across the country as a result of air traffic controller furloughs. The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 (H.R. 1765) provides the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with increased authority to transfer funding from lower priority items to support air traffic control operations and staffing through the remainder of the fiscal year without increasing the agency's budget. H.R. 1765 also permits the Secretary of Transportation to make additional transfers within FAA accounts, allowing the Department to restore the FAA contract towers that are scheduled to be cut, including the W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.
H.R. 1765 passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 361 to 41, just a day after the Senate approved the same bill by unanimous consent.
The bill does not increase spending or add to the deficit. It clarifies the ability of the Department of Transportation to make priorities within the sequester-level budget that the President signed into law last month.
"Passengers will be spending fewer hours stuck in airport terminals and on the tarmac thanks to this commonsense measure, which puts public safety and transportation needs first," said Upton. "Like other federal agencies operating under the sequester, the FAA has the authority and flexibility to prioritize funding for important public services. This has been political theater at its worst. Whether travelling for business or to visit loved ones, folks just want to know that their flights are safe and on time."
The FAA is required under the sequester to reduce its $15.8 billion budget by approximately 5 percent. On Sunday, April 21, 2013, the FAA began its announced policy of furloughing FAA air traffic controllers for one day every 10 days. Taking the lead from the administration, the FAA claimed that such measures were necessary to comply with the sequester, although Congress has already granted the FAA and other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense the authority to prioritize and reprogram funding within the budgetary confines of the sequester.
In addition to the furloughs, the FAA claimed that it was necessary to close approximately 149 contract air traffic control towers located across the country and limit late night operations at an additional 72 towers because of increased costs. H.R. 1765 is intended to address both the furlough and contract tower issue.
"Hopefully, this should also be good news for Battle Creek as the Transportation Secretary has been given the authority to keep contract towers from closing. We still do not know the rationale behind the administration's decision to close the Battle Creek air traffic control tower, which is used by one of the country's leading aviation colleges, the National Guard, and an aviation company that employs more than 500 workers."
On March 28, 2013, Upton sent a letter to the FAA and Transportation Secretary demanding an explanation of the decision to close the Battle Creek air traffic control tower. The W.K. Kellogg Airport is home to many, including the Battle Creek Air National Guard 110th Airlift Wing, Western Michigan University's College of Aviation, and major local employer Duncan Aviation.
The FAA has since announced that it has delayed the closure of the Battle Creek airport tower.