Senators push FAA to use furlough bill money to keep flight towers open

The lawmakers said their votes for the FAA bill last week were based on the belief that the flight towers would be kept open.

“Our support of this was based on the understanding that the contract towers would be fully funded,” the lawmakers wrote. “By providing up to $253 million in funding authority — far above the amount required to prevent furloughs — Congressional intent is clear: FAA must prevent the slated closure of 149 contract towers by fully funding the contract tower program.”

The FAA had originally planned to begin closing the contract air towers in April. The agency pushed back the proposal until June 15 in response to complaints from lawmakers and airports, however. At least three airports have filed lawsuits against the FAA to block the flight tower closures.

The FAA told The Hill on Thursday that it was reviewing the bill that was passed by lawmakers now that the measure has been signed by President Obama.

The legislation authorizes the agency to transfer $253 million from its fund for airport improvements to cover expenses incurred by eliminating the air traffic controller furloughs.

The agency says the cutbacks it has proposed are necessary because it is required to cut $600 million from its 2013 budget by the sequester.

Congress passed the bill to give the FAA flexibility to move money around in its budget after airlines and passengers complained about flight delays last week. The agency delayed hundreds of flights that would have otherwise been ready to go because about 10 percent of its air traffic controllers were furloughed.

The letter Thursday was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Jerry Moran (R-Kan.); Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.); Max Baucus (D-Mont.); Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); John Boozman (R-Ark.); Richard Burr (R-N.C.); Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.); Robert Casey (D-Pa.); Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); Tom Coburn (R-Okla.); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); Al Franken (D-Minn.); Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa); Kay Hagan (D-N.C.); James Inhofe (R-Okla.); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); Tim Kaine (D-Va.); Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.); Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); Bill Nelson (D- Fla.); Rob Portman (R-Ohio); Mark Pryor (D-Ark.); James Risch (R-Idaho); Pat Roberts (R-Kan.); Ron Johnson (R-Wis.); Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.); Tim Scott (R-S.C.); Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.); John Thune (R-S.D.); Pat Toomey (R-Pa.); Tom Udall (D-N.M.); David Vitter (R-La.); Mark Warner (D-Va.); and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). 

This post has been updated to reflect the number of signatories to the letter.