Cantwell Urges FAA to Keep Air Traffic Control Towers Open

Renton Patch - Kendall Watson

In a new letter,  U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and a bipartisan group of six other  Senate and House aviation leaders urged the Federal Aviation  Administration (FAA) to prevent the closure of 149 air traffic control  towers across the country. The 149 contract towers –  which are operated by contractors for the FAA – are scheduled to close  on June 15.

Five contract  towers in Washington state would be among the contract towers closed under the current plan: Renton Municipal Airport, Tacoma Narrows  Airport, Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister  Field, Felts Field in Spokane, and Olympia Regional Airport. View the  full list  here.

The letter sent Thursday to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood  and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta was led by Senate Committee on  Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV  (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD). The  letter was also signed by Cantwell and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), the  Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation  Operations, Safety and Security. It was also signed by House commerce  and aviation leaders: Representatives Bill Shuster  (R-PA), Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ).

"We are profoundly disappointed with the decision of the FAA to target 149 FAA contract control towers for closure on June 15," the Senators and Representatives wrote. "We ask that you identify lower priority spending elsewhere in the FAA’s budget for reduction."

The FAA had  initially planned to begin the closure of the contract towers on April  7, but on April 5 the FAA announced the closures would be delayed until  June 15. Cantwell had raised  concerns with Huerta about the impact of the potential closures in  Washington state and around the country.

"The decision to shutter contract towers on such a wide-scale basis is unprecedented," the letter said. "It  is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the  closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety and  study. We recognize that the FAA faces difficult  choices, but in this instance we remain opposed to the FAA’s actions  and will continue to urge action to keep contract towers open and  operational."

A Commerce Committee hearing on aviation safety has been scheduled  for Tuesday, April 16, at 2:30 p.m. FAA Administrator Huerta is  scheduled to testify. The hearing will examine the consequences of  sequestration on the FAA and the agency’s efforts to implement safety  provisions in recent FAA reauthorizations.