Richard Burr and Kay Hagan are among 55 U.S. senators who are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a long-term strategy and plan for the Federal Contract Tower Program.
North Carolina has five contract air-traffic control towers, including one at Smith Reynolds Airport.
The senators made the bipartisan request in a letter dated July 31 to Michael Huerta, FAA administrator.
The letter says that the FAA has initiated a planning effort aimed at reducing the national airspace system and the formation of a low-activity tower working group.
The senators also wrote that there are few details, except for vague statements by FAA officials, “indicating an intention to match FAA’s services and facilities with the demand from aviation stakeholders.”
“We believe it is critically important that the FAA work collaboratively and in partnership with the key aviation stakeholders before making important policy decision that impact the long term sustainability of contract towers nationwide,” wrote the senators.
The senators asked several questions that they want FAA officials to respond to by Aug. 29.
The questions include:
• How does the FAA plan to support the continued operation of the Federal Contract Tower Program in its long-term strategic planning?
• How does the FAA believe the program fits within efforts to right-size the national airspace system?
“We passed bipartisan legislation in the Senate to keep these contract towers open because of the critical services they provide to many North Carolina communities,” Hagan, a Democrat, said in a press release. “Developing a plan to ensure the future of these towers will preserve jobs in North Carolina jobs and address safety concerns that arise from not having control towers.”
Burr, a Republican, could not be reached for comment.
On June 15, 2013, the tower at Smith Reynolds Airport was one of 149 contract airport towers scheduled to close throughout the country because of the federal sequestration.
Then the U.S. Department of Transportation said in May 2013 that the towers would remain open for the remainder of fiscal 2013. But the towers continued to operate even during the 2013 government shutdown and funding was provided in 2014.
Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved their version of legislation in June to provide funds for the Department of Transportation and the FAA for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1.
On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the bill provided $149 million in dedicated funding for the contract tower program. On June 10, the House
Appropriations Committee’s version included $140 million in dedicated funding for the program.
Mark Davidson, the director of Smith Reynolds Airport, said that airport officials are glad that both senators from North Carolina signed the letter to Huerta.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said. “We’re just glad to know they are informed about the issue and how important it is to the region and the state.”
He said there is still uncertainty about the FAA’s long-term plans for contract towers.
“You never know what the FAA is going to put in their budget request,” Davidson said. “The contract tower program is on that chopping block sometimes.”