By Mike Prager
Spokane Airports is at the forefront of an expanding legal challenge to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close the Felts Field air control tower and 148 others at small airports around the country.
Officials from a number of those airports have contacted Spokane about joining a Spokane-led lawsuit filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, said Lawrence Krauter, Spokane International Airport CEO and director in Spokane.
Other airports also are pursuing their own legal cases, including the Bloomington-Normal, Ill., airport authority, which filed suit on Wednesday, Krauter said.
The FAA announced last week the agency will quit paying for the small airport tower operations as part of across-the-board federal budget cuts ordered by Congress. The cuts are being made through a “sequestration” of federal money, and came after Congress failed to find a budget compromise since the cuts were ordered in 2011.
The towers slated for closure on April 7 operate under contract with the FAA.
Felts Field has about 52,000 landings and takeoffs each year.
Krauter said Felts serves a flight school and commercial aviation in addition to general aviation. Safety is a major consideration in the busy airspace used by flights in and out of Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base.
The FAA earlier rejected Spokane’s request to reconsider the closure based on the need to maintain Felts’ tower operation in the national interest. In addition, Spokane Airports argued that a 1987 law adopted by Congress ensures continuity of the tower operations.
Spokane Airports also argued that environmental review is needed prior to closure.
Spokane has agreed to wait until Tuesday for a response from the FAA before taking its next legal step – potentially filing a temporary restraining order in federal appeals court, Krauter said.
A spokeswoman for the FAA did not reply to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association, said small airports as a group are pursuing a series of strategies involving the courts as well as appeals to FAA and legislation in Congress to restore funding.
“We are trying all fronts,” Dickerson said.