Airports, Industry Challenge FAA's Towers Decision In Court

By Kerry Lynch kerry.lynch@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First

The associations acknowledge FAA may argue that it should have deference in its budget sequestration decisions, but they argue that FAA did not provide any reasoned explanation or detailed analysis. FAA is required to examine relevant data and explain its actions, the brief says. “A review of the paltry record that existed at the time FAA made its decision demonstrates that the agency failed to undertake any reasoned analysis regarding safety and efficiency,” the brief says. “A review of the entire post hoc record reveals nothing more than a safety review that is lackluster, at best.”

Meanwhile, a joint brief filed by Spokane on behalf of numerous local authorities echoes many of the same arguments. Records show that most analysis of the FAA decision came after the agency decided to revoke tower funding, the groups contend in their brief. “The pre-decisional record fails to show that FAA prioritized air safety in deciding to close the contract towers. This is a textbook case of arbitrary agency action,” the groups say, adding, “FAA abandoned its own established procedures and regulations for thoroughly evaluating changes to critical safety elements like the towers.” These include safety risk management analyses.

The groups further argue that FAA is required to apply sequestration cuts evenly, but sequestration’s mandate doesn’t necessarily demand cuts in the contract tower program. Further, sequestration laws do not eliminate FAA’s statutory requirements for safety, environmental mandates or other obligations, the brief contends.

The groups underscore the safety services provided by the towers, along with the fact that they are less expensive than federal towers. They also cite congressional mandates for FAA to continue the program and extend it as “practicable.” But the brief says, “FAA has exhibited some reluctance to continue this program.”

AOPA, meanwhile, tells the court in its amicus curiae brief filed this week that FAA’s decision was “based solely on the number of operations conducted at the airport and how that number affects the traveling public” and does not account for numerous considerations that played into establishing and maintaining each tower.

FAA overlooked “the management of (aircraft) approaching, landing, and departing the airport, the access to the airport, any accident and incident avoidance measures on and in the vicinity of the airport, the local and national impact on traffic diverted to other airports, the public’s health and welfare, the public interests, and environmental impact changes,” AOPA says.


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