Cantwell, Bipartisan Senate Coalition Urge DOT, FAA to Keep Contract Towers Open

149 contract towers scheduled for closure beginning June 15

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a bipartisan coalition of 41 senators in urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use the flexibility provided by legislation passed last week to stop the planned closure of 149 contract towers – including five in Washington state

Cantwell – the Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security – joined her colleagues in calling for the towers to remain open past next month. Without action, the 149 towers are slated for closure on June 15. The five Washington state towers slated for closure are: 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 Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 passed the U.S. Senate on April 25 and the U.S. House on April 26, and was signed into law by President Obama on May 1. It allows the FAA to transfer up to $253 million in funding from other accounts within the department to the FAA in order to end the furloughs for 47,000 FAA employees and end the planned closure of 149 contract towers.

In a letter sent Thursday to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the senators stated that Congressional intent of the legislation was for the contract towers to remain open, in order to ensure a “safe and efficient air transportation system” as the legislation outlines.

“We urge you to ensure that in addition to ending furloughs for 47,000 FAA employees, the agency also end the planned closure of 149 contract towers,” the senators wrote. “This legislation gives the FAA the flexibility and funding it needs to do both. Anything short of ending both the furloughs and contract tower closures would ignore the flexibility outlined in Section 2 (c).”

Cantwell has been a leading advocate of keeping the contract towers open. During a Commerce Committee hearing on aviation safety on April 16, Cantwell questioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta about the potential impact to Washington state communities of FAA budget cuts to air traffic control tower programs. On April 12, Cantwell sent a letter with a bipartisan group of six other Senate and House aviation leaders urging the FAA to prevent the closure of 149 air traffic control towers across the country.

“The disruption that the combined closure of 149 contract towers would have starting June 15th would certainly go against the recently enacted legislation, which allows the U.S. Department of Transportation to ‘prevent reduced operations and staffing of the FAA during FY2013 to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system,’” the senators continued in the letter. “By providing up to $253 million in funding authority – far above the amount required to prevent furloughs – Congressional intent is clear: the FAA should prevent the slated closure of 149 contract towers by fully funding the contract tower program.”

In addition to Senator Cantwell, the letter sent Thursday was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Max Baucus (D-MT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Burr (R-NC), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Al Franken (D-MN), Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), Kay Hagan (D-NC), James Inhofe (R-OK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Pryor (D-AR), James Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Thune (R-SD), Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Tom Udall (D-NM), David Vitter (R-LA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).