Lawmakers to FAA: Explain flight tower closures

The FAA has said that it has to close the flight towers in order to achieve the $600 million budget cut it is required to make by the sequestration law.

The letter challenging that assertion was signed by Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); Nick RahallNick RahallLikely W.Va. Senate GOP rivals spar in radio appearances West Virginia is no longer Clinton country Solution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth MORE (D-W.Va.); Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Sens. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.); John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-S.D.); and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (D-Wash.).

The lawmakers argued that the FAA could make cuts in other areas of its budget.

"We ask that you identify lower priority spending elsewhere in the FAA’s budget for reduction," the lawmakers wrote. "It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety data and study.”

The FAA has said that the flight tower closures will not affect most major airports where most commercial flights operate from because the facilities that have been identified are mostly at small regional airports.

But the lawmakers said Friday that closing small air towers would still impact the safety of the overall national aviation system.

"As you are well aware, contract towers have long played an integral role in the agency's efforts to manage the safety and efficiency of the nation's complex airspace," they wrote. "The decision to shutter contract towers on such a wide-scale basis is unprecedented."

The FAA had originally announced that it would begin closing the flight towers on April 7, but the agency pushed the closures back to June 15 after facing pressure from both lawmakers and airports.

At least three airports have filed lawsuits against the FAA to block the air tower closures completely.

The lawmakers said Friday that they wanted more information about the factors that contributed to the selection of the flight towers the FAA has marked for closure.

"Despite the serious concerns expressed by elected representatives in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, as well as by local officials, business leaders, airports, air traffic controllers, general aviation operators and businesses, state aviation officials and other concerned citizens, the FAA has yet to address the impact this action may have on aviation system safety or efficiency," the legislators wrote.

"It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety data and study," the lawmakers continued. "We recognize the FAA faces difficult choices, but in this instance we remain opposed to the FAA's actions and will continue to urge action to keep contract towers open and operational."

The FAA has said it will use the extra time provided by the delay in closing the towers it announced last week to assuage lawmaker's concerns about the airports that were selected.