House bill would block FAA tower closures


The new air traffic control tower at Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Md., is among 149 slated for closure. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Representatives from Iowa, Arkansas and North Carolina on Wednesday introduced legislation to block the closure of 149 air traffic control towers because of mandatory budget cuts under sequestration.

The bill, dubbed the Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act, is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.)

“The FAA’s decision places the burden of these closures on small cities and rural communities across the country,” said Braley, whose Iowa district includes Dubuque Regional Airport, one of the 149 control towers slated for closure.  

In March, officials at the Federal Aviation Administration announced that  149 control towers run by FAA contractors would be closed beginning this month. Officials said they expected to save $30 to $40 million from the closures. Under sequestration the FAA must make about about $637 million in cuts

But the announcement drew criticism from some members of Congress and prompted a number of communities to file lawsuits.

Then, just days before the closures were set to begin on April 7, the FAA announced it was delaying the shutdowns until June 15 to give local communities more time to decide whether they would pay to keep the towers operating.

The legislation would shift money from FAA’s budget for facilities and research to fund the tower program. It is based on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) that was offered as part of the Senate legislation that funded the government through the end of the fiscal year.

Moran, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), is expected to introduce similar legislation to block the tower closures this month.

Among the local towers slated for closure are five in Maryland — Frederick, Hagerstown, Martin State (Baltimore County), Easton and Salisbury — and one — Lynchburg — in Virginia. The airports affected are mostly small to medium-size facilities with fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and landings a year.

Frederick’s tower is notable because it opened less than 10 months ago. It was built with $5.3 million in stimulus funding.

 

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.

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Lori Aratani · April 10, 2013