Bill to block flight tower closures filed in House

A trio of lawmakers in the House has filed a bill to stop the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from closing nearly 150 air traffic control towers this summer.

The bill, filed by Reps. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), and Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), requires the FAA to cancel its plans to make its sequester budget cuts by closing 149 flight control towers.

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"Last month, the FAA announced it would direct what we believe are a disproportionate share of their sequestration cuts towards the Federal Contract Towers program budget," the lawmakers said in a statement.

"During Senate consideration of fiscal year 2013 appropriations last month, Senator Moran (R-KS) led a bipartisan group of senators in offering an amendment to provide funding to the contract towers," the sponsors of the legislation continued. "Unfortunately, the amendment was not brought up for a vote, meaning 150 air-traffic-control towers will close on June 15, and an additional 16 towers will shut down by year’s end."

The measure is similar to legislation that has been introduced in the Senate by a group of 18 lawmakers.

In response to the pushback from lawmakers and airports, the FAA had announced last week that it was delaying the tower closures, originally set to begin on April 7, until June. But the lawmakers who introduced the House bill on Wednesday were not satisfied with the temporary delay.

Most of the air towers marked for closure on the FAA's list are facilities at small, regional airports where the agency contracts with private companies to monitor flights.

But Cotton, Braley and Hudson said that closing the small flight towers would have a sizable impact on the overall aviation system.

“Local air-traffic-control towers have served a vital role in our country’s aviation infrastructure for over 30 years and are integral to the success of local businesses and rural communities," the lawmakers said. "They prove to be a safe, cost-effective alternative to federally operated towers in low-traffic areas and should not be closed without an opportunity to evaluate alternative approaches the FAA could take within its operating budget.

“In the interim, the Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act would provide control-tower funding through a rescission of unobligated funds within the current FAA budget," they continued. "We urge the FAA to reevaluate these impending cuts and look forward to working with our colleagues as this legislation advances.”

Republicans in Congress have accused the FAA of trying to score political points by choosing to make cuts that would have a negative impact on airline passengers.

The FAA has argued the sequester mandates it to make equal cuts across its budget. Federal agencies are required to cut about 9 percent of their total 2013 spending under the law.

The decision to delay the closing of the flight towers is not expected to impact the FAA's budget cuts because the agency planned to gradually close the facilities.

The FAA is required by the sequester to cut its budget for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year by $600 million.