Furloughs End, But Tower And Maintenance Uncertainty Remain

By Andrew Compart andrew_compart@aviationweek.com, Kerry Lynch kerry_lynch@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First

NATCA is rounding up examples of equipment failures and equipment on the verge of failing to make its case that this is another sequestration-related problem that needs to be addressed.

The continuation of the agency’s hiring freeze, which will mean a net loss of staffing, also continues to cause concern at NATCA, especially with about 3,000 controllers eligible for retirement. “Sequestration is not a good thing for the aviation system,” the spokesman says.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) shares NATCA’s equipment concerns, and adds that the sequester cuts at FAA—the total amount of which remains the same—will slow progress on the NextGen air traffic control system, too.

“We’ve kind of taken care of one half of the problem: keeping front line operations at their stations,” says Sean Cassidy, the union’s first vice president. ALPA is pleased Congress helped stop the furloughs, but Cassidy says the cuts that remain “are going to have an immediate impact on the ability to maintain the current equipment and a downrange impact on the ability to improve our systems, and that’s not good no matter how you cut it.”

The agency also has not yet clarified the “contract-reduction efforts” and whether that includes the contract tower program. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who has led a charge on Capitol Hill to preserve the contract tower program, last week is believed to have been assured by Senate leadership that the $258 million was enough to cover the towers along with FAA furloughs.

Moran and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who have co-authored a bill to prohibit closures of federal and contract towers through fiscal 2014, are expected to write a letter of congressional intent to accompany the bill to stipulate the reprogramming authority should also include the towers. Moran and other tower backers also have indicated that the plan is to keep the pressure on the administration to try to preserve the program.

Aviation groups still await word from FAA on the fate of the towers, says Heidi Williams, vice president of air traffic services and modernization for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Williams notes that while lawmakers support use of the reprogrammed funding to preserve the tower program, nothing in the bill actually mandates it. “There’s still many questions remaining,” she says.

But other contract cuts still are in place, including certified contact weather observers, who provided more detailed weather information over those given from the automated weather observation stations, Williams says, another AOPA concern.


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