Aviation industry groups are looking to prevent a repeat in 2014 of the impact that the $85 billion in government spending cuts known as sequestration had on airlines, manufacturers and air travelers recently.
A coalition of groups including the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, urging them to preserve the contract air traffic control towers scheduled for closure at the end of the federal 2013 fiscal year in September. In May, both chambers of Congress passed a bill that allowed FAA to use $253 million in funds from its Airport Improvement Program account to keep funding the 149 federal contract towers that were originally scheduled to close in April.
However, that funding is only good through the end of September. The towers, mostly located at small and medium-sized airports, would need an additional $150 million in the FY2014 budget to stay open.
“NBAA has long maintained that these facilities are integral components in the world’s safest, largest, most diverse and most efficient aviation system,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “As lawmakers debate the federal government’s funding requirements for the upcoming fiscal year, we ask that they also consider the important role that contract towers play in our national airspace system.”
FAA’s contract tower program currently includes 251 smaller airports across 46 states, handling about 28 percent of all air traffic control tower operations in the United States. When the sequester cuts became inevitable in March, the agency chose to close 149 towers with fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and landings per year.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) seems to agree with the aviation industry that the sequester cuts need to be reversed. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post last week, she expressed her belief that Americans “do not fully understand the long-term effects of cutting $984 billion in spending over 10 years through sequestration.”
“We ‘fixed’ the Federal Aviation Administration problem for only five months, and we paid for it by cutting FAA programs designed to expand the capacity of U.S. airports and improve safety. The sequester law lasts 10 years and imposes far deeper cuts,” Mikulski wrote. “The solution to the sequester is not rocket science. We need to come out from behind our talking points and negotiate in good faith.”