April 05, 2013
Credit: John Croft/AW&ST
The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and its U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA) affiliate are turning to the courts to fight the FAA’s plan to close up to 149 contract air traffic control towers over the next month.
The organizations filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and plan to seek a stay to block the closures, set to begin April 7.
The action joins those of a growing number of local communities that also have filed lawsuits against the FAA’s plan to shutter the towers as part of its effort to meet sequestration requirements for budget cuts. More than a half dozen communities—from Spokane, Wash., to Ohio State University—have filed separate suits, calling the action unjustified.
Those suits have been consolidated by a multi-district panel into a larger case being heard by the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals in California. Ken Quinn, who represents AAAE/USCTA, says it still is unclear whether the associations’ case will be combined with the others.
“It’s unfortunate that our efforts to reason with the FAA to keep contract towers open and operational have fallen on deaf ears,” says Spencer Dickerson, president of meetings and international for AAAE and executive director of USCTA. “Contract towers have long been an integral part of the FAA’s system of managing the nation’s complex airspace, and the decision to shutter these critical air traffic control facilities on such an unprecedented and wide-scale basis raises serious concerns about safety—both at the local level and throughout the aviation system.”
The AAAE/USCTA lawsuit follows a direct appeal from the associations for the FAA to halt the action. The associations on April 2 filed an “emergency request for administrative stay” with the FAA, warning that absent action, they would turn to the court of appeals. The request is a necessary legal step the associations must take before they can request a stay from the courts.
“No justifiable reason exists to single out the contract tower program and make it the [Obama] administration’s poster child for sequestration cuts,” Quinn, a former FAA chief counsel and partner at Pillsbury Winthrop, says in the April 2 emergency request sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Nor should such fundamental changes occur without proper notice, comment and analyses.”
The associations maintain that the action is “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of the FAA’s own regulations, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).