By Alan Levin
A legislative effort to spare 189 privately run airport control towers from closing next month as part of automatic federal budget cuts failed when the Senate refused to take up the issue.
Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, saying he was seeking to protect “the safety of Americans,” yesterday briefly held up a vote on the bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 because an amendment to shield the towers from the spending reductions wasn’t in the package.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has said it will have to shut as many as 238 airport towers under automatic cuts known as sequestration. Of the total, 189 are operated by private firms and 48 are staffed by FAA controllers.
“Our legislative options are between nil and zero right now,” Spencer Dickerson, a president of the American Association of Airport Executives, said in an interview. “It’s pretty bleak.”
Dickerson, who also heads the Alexandria, Virginia-based Contract Tower Association, said the FAA is expected to release tomorrow a final list of facilities that will close as early as April 7. The agency had allowed airports to appeal the tower closings while cautioning that few would be approved.
Moran’s effort to keep the towers open was backed by Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, who said the administration is using the threat of a shutdown as a weapon against Republicans.
“By moving a small amount of money, we can bolster public safety by keeping air traffic contract towers open,” Wicker said in an interview.
The FAA must cut $627 million in expenses by Sept. 30 unless Congress overturns sequestration, Administrator Michael Huerta told a House hearing on Feb. 27. The agency will also make almost all its 47,000 employees, including air-traffic controllers, take an unpaid day off every two weeks, Huerta said. The furloughs, which start April 21, may trigger flight delays at large airports, he said.