DOT: Contract Towers To Stay Open For Now

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

The Senate letter, spearheaded by Sens. Moran and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), notes that congressional support for the bill was based on the understanding that the towers could be fully funded. “Anything short of ending both the furloughs and contract tower closures would ignore the flexibility outlined in [the bill],” the senators say.

A similar letter was sent from the House, signed by 83 members. “The safety and efficiency of our skies have been put at risk and it was incumbent upon the Congress to direct the Secretary of Transportation to use unobligated balances of the Airport Improvement Program account to prevent the closure of 149 contract air traffic control towers and halt the furloughs of air traffic controllers,” the House letter says.

Separately, 70 mayors appealed to the FAA in their own joint letter, focused on the effects the decision to pull funding from the towers could have on their local communities. “The closure of these towers will negatively impact jobs and the economy within our communities. Our airports and the aircraft and businesses that rely upon them are a major economic driver,” the mayors say. “At a time when we as a nation should be focused on creating and supporting jobs, these closures will only serve to hamper business growth.”

Along with the letter-writing campaign, dozens of municipalities had joined in a lawsuit spearheaded by the City of Spokane, Wash., in an effort to halt the FAA’s plan to drop funding for the contract towers on June 15. The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and USCTA have been suing as well. The various parties filed briefs, and if the lawsuits continue, FAA’s responses are due next week and oral arguments are scheduled June 5.

The briefs argue that FAA moved to eliminate funding for the towers without conducting proper environmental and safety assessments in violation of federal law. The suits are before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California.

A USCTA/AAAE brief calls the FAA’s action to end tower funding “arbitrary, capricious ... in excess of statutory jurisdiction,” and argues that the FAA performed only a cursory review before making its decision, ignored safety and efficiency concerns and failed to provide any reasoned analysis.

The 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.