Congress approved legislation Thursday to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, avoiding some of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, though leaving the more than $600 million in cuts that threaten to shut down up to 189 air traffic control towers at small and medium-sized airports throughout the United States.
The bill gives the Department of Defense, NASA and several other agencies the ability to restructure their automatic spending cuts, but keeps FAA’s budget cuts the same as they were originally structured under the $85 billion across-the-board cuts that went into effect earlier this month.
Last week, a bi-partisan amendment was introduced to the Senate Continuing Resolution by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to take $50 million in “FAA research and capital funds” from prior appropriations bills and allocate it to the Air Traffic Organization to keep the towers open.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently said in a statement before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that FAA planned to close 173 contract towers beginning in April to save up to $50 million. Contract towers are funded by FAA’s Contract Tower Program, which outsources airport tower operations to the private sector.
Blunt said his amendment would have saved these towers from closing, as well as the federally funded portion of 16 cost-share towers.
“Once there is an accident, and somebody dies and a plane crashes, the question will always be ‘what if there had been an air traffic control tower there? What if we had left the program in place?” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), in a statement on the Senate floor Wednesday.
FAA is expected to release a complete list of towers that will be shut down later this month. More