By Keith Laing
A group of 18 senators is introducing legislation to stop the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from closing nearly 150 air traffic control towers this summer.
The FAA has identified 149 flight control towers at small regional airports it intends to close because of the sequester.
The agency had announced that the closures were set to begin on April 7, but the schedule was pushed back until June after sharp criticism from airports and lawmakers who represent districts where the towers are located.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers, which includes Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and David Vitter (R-La.), will hold a press conference Wednesday to announce a bill that would stop the closures permanently.
The measure, dubbed the Protect Our Skies Act, will “protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America,” the lawmakers said.
The FAA has said it will use the extra time to deal with the pushback on the flight tower closures. The agency said it will also use the time to deal with a series of lawsuits that have been filed to prevent specific towers from being closed.
The decision to delay the closing of the flight towers is not expected to impact the FAA’s budget cuts because the agency planned to gradually close the facilities.
The FAA is required by the sequester to cut its budget for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year by $600 million.
Republicans in Congress have accused the FAA of trying to score political points by choosing to make cuts that would have a negative impact on airline passengers.
However, the FAA has argued the sequester mandates it to make equal cuts across its budget. Federal agencies are required to cut about 9 percent of their total 2013 spending under the law.