Both the Senate and House of Representatives appropriations committees have allocated money to keep 251 contract air traffic control towers open into the next fiscal year, including the one at Lynchburg Regional Airport.
Airport Director Mark Courtney said he was “very encouraged” by the funding allocation.
“It’s a good development,” he said.
Contract towers — those operated by private companies rather than the Federal Aviation Administration — originally were one of the biggest targets for funding cutbacks because of sequestration.
On March 22, the FAA released a list of 149 contract towers slated to close to make up for more than $600 million in sequestration funding cuts. Lynchburg Regional Airport was the eighth-busiest airport on the list and the largest airport selected for tower closure with commercial service.
Two months later, after Courtney and dozens of other airport leaders throughout the country had worked to find alternate funding to keep their towers open, Congress approved a bill allowing the FAA to redirect available money to end controller furloughs at major airports and keep contract towers open through the end of the current federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Now, according to a news release Thursday from the U.S. Contract Tower Association, both the House and Senate appropriations committees have included funding for contract towers in their fiscal year 2014 spending bills for the Department of Transportation, FAA and other federal agencies.
Even though there’s still uncertainty as to whether these bills will become reality, Courtney said, this ac-tion by both houses of Congress sends a clear message to the FAA about the future of contract towers.
The House bill includes a minimum of $140 million for contract towers, while the Senate legislation in-cludes $140.35 million for the program, the release says.
“The inclusion of dedicated funding for the Contract Tower Program as part of both the House and Senate funding bills for the FAA is significant and reaffirms the bipartisan, bicameral view that the Contract Tower Program is a high priority and too important to be targeted for disproportionate funding cuts,” J. Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the contract tower association, said in the release.