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May 03, 2013

Inhofe, Others Keep Pressure on FAA to End Contract Tower Closures

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) today joined 41 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta to call on the agency to stop the planned closure of 149 contract towers. In the letter, the members highlight that the bill passed in the Senate on April 25 and signed into law by the president to end furloughs at the FAA provides enough budget flexibility to also fully fund contract towers currently scheduled for closure this summer.  
In the letter, the senators wrote: “While ending furloughs for tens of thousands of FAA personnel is a common sense decision due to the impact that flight delays had on the traveling public, we are equally concerned about the status of the contract tower program. The contract tower program is a vital public safety and economic development asset for dozens of communities – many of them rural – in every corner of the country. These municipalities depend on the contract tower program to provide commercial and general aviation services, jobs, and in many cases, support for a variety of air ambulance facilities. 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 FY 2013 to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system.’”
Sen. Inhofe said, “The FAA’s budget has more than doubled since 1996. Sequestration only reduces the FAA’s budget by 5 percent bringing it down to 2010 levels. Now that the FAA furloughs have been canceled due to this new law, I hope the FAA will have the common sense to also find a solution to end the planned closures of its contract towers. I have spoken personally with Ray LaHood about the four towers in Oklahoma that are at risk of closing this summer. Their essentiality cannot be ignored as it will impact rural economies, emergency services, and even national defense operations. This budgetary crisis – not only for the FAA but for all the federal agencies – could have been solved months ago if the president had not issued a veto threat of my bill with Sen. Pat Toomey that would have granted wide-sweeping flexibility to sequestration cuts this year.”
A copy of the letter in full can be downloaded by clicking here.
On March 22, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would be closing 149 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contract control towers as a result of sequestration budget cuts. The decision will affect Oklahoma towers in Lawton, Norman, Wiley Post in Oklahoma City and Stillwater. While the closures were to take effect on April 7, the DOT has since delayed closures until June 15 due to legal challenges.
Inhofe is a cosponsor of the Protect Our Skies Act that would prohibit DOT from closing any air traffic control towers during FY 2013 and 2014. It is sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 20 Senators.

Inhofe was also a cosponsor of an amendment to the Senate Democratic Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2014 that would make it easier to restore federal funding in fiscal year 2014 for air traffic control towers. The amendment was adopted by unanimous consent and the Budget Resolution passed the Senate on March 23.

On March 14, Sen. Inhofe introduced an amendment to the Senate Continuing Resolution (CR) with eight other colleagues to stop the FAA from targeting the air traffic control towers in sequestration. Click here to read more about the amendment, which was blocked from a vote.


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