U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has joined the effort to keep Felts Field and 148 small airport towers open.
Last Friday, Cantwell and a bipartisan group of other federal government leaders urged the FAA to rethink plans to close the towers on June 15 as part of the sequestration process.
“The decision to shutter contract towers on such a wide-scale basis is unprecedented,” Cantwell and others wrote. “It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air-traffic control assets absent adequate safety and study.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is attempting to cut $637 million from its budget. The letter was sent to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
“We recognize that the FAA faces difficult choices,” the letter continues, “but in this instance we remain opposed to the FAA’s action and will continue to urge action keep contract towers open and operational.”
In addition to Felts Field, four other contract towers in Washington state are scheduled to be closed by the FAA: Renton Municipal Airport, Tacoma Narrow Airport, Yakima Air Terminal/McCallister Field and Olympia Regional Airport.
Signing the letter with Cantwell, a Democrat, were Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. It was also signed by House commerce and aviation leaders, reps. Bill Schuster (R-Pa.), Rich Nahall (D-W.V.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).
A congressional Commerce Committee hearing on aviation was scheduled for Tuesday on the consequences of sequestration, and the FAA’s efforts to implement safety provisions. Huerta was scheduled to testify.
Originally, the towers were scheduled to shut down April 7, however legal challenges – including one filed by Spokane Airports – precipitated the FAA moving back the date.
If the towers are closed, the airports will continue to operate – only it will be without the extra set of “eyes.” Pilots will communicate with one another to coordinate landings and take-offs.
Towers may also remain open if other funding is found to pay for air-traffic controllers.