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All HAI members are strongly encouraged to contact their two U.S. Senators this week to ask that they support S. 687, Senator Jerry Moran's (R-Kan.) bill that would dictate that no towers – either contract or those run by the FAA, should be closed.

No decision has yet been made by the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), on whether to hold a markup on the Moran legislation to exempt all air traffic control towers from sequestration cuts. The measure is now supported by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) and 30 U.S. Senators.

Here is the message for lawmakers on the closure of FAA contract control towers:

1. The Senate Commerce Committee must hold a markup on the merits of the Moran legislation. It must obtain more detailed answers and transparency from the Obama administration on how the decision was made to close contract towers with respect to the safety data and any study that was utilized to shift sequestration cuts onto contract towers which continue to be the most cost effective method of operation, costing 1/4 the cost of FAA-run towers.

2. $50 million is the amount needed to keep the contract towers open past June 15 when 149 towers are slated to close. The funds should come from the FAA's facilities and research accounts.

3. There is no wisdom in closing contract towers at airports which support flight training, specifically Space Coast Regional Airport (KTIX) and Portland-Troutdale Airport (KTTD). Two of the largest helicopter flight training schools in the nation are located at these airports, playing vital roles in the training and supply of qualified helicopter pilots to many segments of the industry. The helicopter industry is already experiencing a pilot shortage.

4. Keeping the contract towers open will allow for safe arrivals and departures, prevent mid-air collisions, and maintain the safety and efficiency of the U.S. national airspace through a continued viable and sustainable flight training program. Risk is not an option, Congress must ensure pilots, particularly helicopter pilots operating in concert with fixed-wing aircraft, are able to conduct safe flight operations.

Under questioning at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this week, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta suggested that for contract towers that do not scrape together enough money to stay open through the end of the fiscal year, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to reopen – a concern that airports have voiced since day one. Huerta, testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, said that for the 50-odd towers that have indicated they are exploring ways to come up with their own money, handing operations back to FAA after the end of September would work "smoothly."

However, for the approximately 119 that so far do not appear interested in or able to pay to keep operating, Huerta said that once the towers are closed, the FAA would "need to engage in a process to hire controllers, recertify controllers and get them back up to speed in operating that airspace, and that would represent an expenditure of time and money."

When questioned by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as to whether it makes sense to close them down for the summer, Huerta said "The sequester gives us few options but to achieve the required savings and to achieve them in this year."

Posted in: HAI at Work
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