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AOPA Welcomes Decision To Keep Contract Control Towers Open
By Eddy Metcalf

May 11, 2013 - Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that Department of Transportation (DOT) has determined that the recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the FAA to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep the 149 low activity contract towers originally slated for closure in June open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. 

Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 (H.R. 1765) allows the Secretary of Transportation to transfer $253 million from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program account to the FAA’s Operations account. 

The transfer authority is necessary to prevent reduced operations and staffing at the FAA during the remainder of fiscal year 2013 and will ensure a safe and effective transportation system. The bill requires the Secretary to notify the House and Senate appropriations Committee prior to the transfer. 


On March 1, 2013, the automatic across the board spending cuts, known as sequester, went into effect. The sequester is the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, as amended by the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which requires $85 billion in cuts to federal spending both mandatory and discretionary for fiscal year 2013. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not immune to the sequester and is required to reduce its $15.8 billion budget by approximately five percent. 

On Sunday, April 21, 2013, the FAA began its announced policy of furloughing FAA air traffic controllers for one day every ten days. The FAA claimed that such measures were necessary to comply with the sequester. In addition to the furloughs, the FAA claimed that it was necessary to close approximately 149 contract air traffic control towers located across the country and limit late night operations at an additional 72 towers because of increased costs. H.R. 1765 is intended to address both the furlough and contract tower issue. 

According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill would not affect budget authority. It would increase outlays by $203 million in 2013. Most, but not all, of that near-term increase would be offset by corresponding reductions in outlays in future years, resulting in net increases in outlays totaling $4 million over the 2013-2018 period and $2 million over the 2013-2023.



The FAA will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate approximately $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system. Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA) President and CEO Craig Fuller welcomed the announcement. Fuller said "We are pleased that the FAA has decided to use the flexibility granted by Congress to keep 149 air traffic control towers open and operating as lawmakers intended. 

There are about 500 control towers in the United States, and 251 of them are contract control towers operated by private companies. The contract tower program is recognized among the FAA’s most cost effective and successful programs in the history of the agency. Fuller said “The decision helps ensure the continued safety and efficiency of our general aviation airports and the national air transportation system as a whole. The entire aviation community has worked diligently for this outcome, and we hope that any future spending cuts necessitated by sequestration will be made only after a comprehensive and thoughtful evaluation of their impact on system users.” 

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