Friday, April 19, 2013

Congress ponders FAA bills

Local delegates support air tower funding

The governing board of Friedman Memorial Airport is exploring ways to keep the air traffic control tower open this summer. The FAA plans to cut funding for the tower on June 15. Photo by Willy Cook

    The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority expressed hope this week that two bills currently working their way through Congress could help keep the field’s air traffic control tower open despite federal budget cuts.
    The tower was listed as one of 149 federal-contract towers that the FAA will not fund after June 15 due to widespread federal budget cuts known as the “sequester.” The airport board decided at its meeting last week that it would fund the air traffic control tower for 30 days after the tower loses funding on June 15, with further funding to be discussed at a future meeting.
    Airport Manager Rick Baird stated at the airport board’s meeting that it would cost about $200,000 to keep the air traffic control tower running through the summer, money that would come from operating reserves. Baird cautioned that funding the tower from reserves would not be a viable long-term solution, however.
    Board spokeswoman Candice Pate said this week that the board is still pursuing litigation to keep the tower open, but that the authority is “pleased” to announce that Idaho’s congressional delegation is co-sponsoring legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to keep air traffic control towers from closing across the nation.
    The Protect Our Skies Act was introduced in the Senate on April 9. The act itself is relatively simple, clearly stating that “the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not, during fiscal year 2013 or 2014, suspend or terminate the operation of any air traffic control tower in operation on March 1, 2013.”
    The bill goes on to say that if any air traffic control towers have been closed between March 1 and when the act is signed into law, the FAA must provide for resumption of the operation of the tower as soon as possible.
    The bill was originally sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
    “The fight to protect FAA contract towers has brought together a bipartisan coalition of senators committed to finding more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety,” Moran said in a news release on Tuesday. “The simple fact that the FAA is able to delay the closures until June shows that the agency’s financial state is not as dire as initially projected.”
    The FAA originally proposed closing towers as early as April 7, a date that was later pushed to May 5 for the tower in Hailey. The agency announced on April 5 that it would delay cutting funding until June 15, in order to allow administrators to sort out “multiple legal challenges” to the funding cuts.
    Of the 30 co-sponsors to the bill, two of them are Idaho Republican senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. Risch and Crapo join 17 Democrats and 12 other Republicans in co-sponsoring the bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
    Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has co-sponsored similar legislation in the House. The Senate version of the Protect Our Skies Act was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last week.
    The House version, known as the Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act, was introduced by Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on April 8 and has since been sent to the House Appropriations Committee.
    Pate said Sun Valley Co., Marketron, Fly Sun Valley Alliance, Atlantic Aviation, Sustain Blaine, the Wood River Economic Partnership, the Blaine County Pilots Association and other local businesses and organizations have been lobbying the congressional delegation to support air traffic control tower funding.
    “The battle is not over,” she said in a news release. “The board continues to demonstrate their commitment to keeping the tower open.”

Kate Wutz:

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