FAA delays budget cuts for air traffic control program

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 5, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

The air traffic control tower in Victoria, as well as 148 other control towers operating under federal contracts, will remain open through June 15, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday.

In March, the FAA nixed funding for the contract tower program as part of the agency's required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration.

However, the American Association of Airport Executives and the U.S. Contract Tower Association filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals intending to seek a stay to block the closures, according to a news release from the airport executives association.

This additional time is intended to give the FAA "time to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions," according to an FAA news release.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Texas Department of Transportation granting temporary funding to 13 Texas control towers that were set to lose federal funding this month.

Victoria County Commissioners were expected to vote Monday whether to accept a bid for temporary management of the control tower as well as the contract terms with TxDOT.

County Judge Don Pozzi said leaders in Washington, D.C., made the issue "much more difficult than it needs to be."

"We have spent countless hours in meetings and phone calls and talking to people, which certainly has not been a waste because if worst comes to worst, we know the direction we're going," he said.

He said the votes Monday are not necessary at this point.

Ultimately, Pozzi said he is pleased the agency stepped up and decided to continue funding.

"Our position is the same as it has been all along," he said. "We certainly think that they should continue to fund those towers as they have done in the past as opposed to passing it on to state and local governments."

After June 15, if the FAA decides to stop funding, Pozzi said he is certain the state will step in to fill the void.

"I'm sure the state of Texas will not change its position, and those towers will remain open one way or another," he said. "When you talk about that many lives and that much air traffic and safety being the No. 1 concern, the federal government needs to reassess their position."

Extending the transition deadline will give the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System, according to a news release from the FAA.

"This has been a complex process, and we need to get this right," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a news release. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

J. Spencer Dickerson, vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives, said in a release that the FAA cannot fully understand the safety, operational and economic impact of closing 149 control towers across the U.S.

"While we understand and appreciate the challenges associated with implementing budget cuts resulting from sequestration, the decision by the administration to disproportionately target the contract tower program represents a regrettable deviation from the role the FAA has always played as a guardian of aviation system safety," he said.



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