The FAA failed to provide a reasoned analysis of why it chose contract towers versus other areas in its budget, Quinn says in the emergency request. The agency also has not fully provided reasoning on why certain towers were selected over others. “The FAA has failed to fundamentally explain its rationale and act in accordance with the APA,” he says.
The associations also question whether the FAA undertook an environmental assessment in accordance with NEPA. “Closing ATC towers likely will shift noise and air quality over areas not impacted previously,” Quinn says.
He also notes that the action has federalism implications “by forcing states/localities to assume the costs for managing critical aspects of the federal airspace system, while imposing—in effect—a series of unfunded mandates.” Affected communities, he says, are essentially forced to assume the FAA’s responsibilities for the safe operation of the airspace.
“The FAA’s proposed action will cause significant harm to the AAAE/USCTA’s members,” Quinn says. “Several of these airports have mainline commercial service that depends on contract towers for passenger operations. Communities without commercial service lose vital economic and transportation links to the national and international marketplace. They lose economic revenue from tourism and visitors.”
A number of communities and at least one state have explored their own temporary funding to keep towers operating. “There is a strong feeling in the local communities that if FAA is going to take a backseat on safety, they will need to take [over] that responsibility, so they are looking at all options,” Dickerson says. But these communities continue to believe the tower operations are a federal responsibility, he adds.
Dickerson stresses that he believes the FAA “still could fix it” and find other places to cut its budget that would free funding to maintain the towers.