Fiscal Cliff Disaster Averted
In the February 2013 edition of Wingtips I expressed my concern regarding the potential impacts of Sequestration. Sure enough, the March 1st deadline arrives and FAA is required to make budget cuts. FAA’s plan to meet the cuts was to furlough most of their employees for one to two days a month and close 149 of the 251 Contract Towers throughout the country. The Contract Towers closings were to begin on April 7, 2013. As Contract Towers provide 30 percent of the air traffic control services at towered airports throughout the nation, there was widespread concern as to the effect that FAA’s plan would have on aviation safety and the economic impact on the airports and communities that these towers served. In Texas, 14 airports stood to lose their tower operations.
On March 27, 2013, Governor Rick Perry sent the following letter to the Texas Transportation Commission:
Mr. Ted Houghton
Texas Transportation Commission
Dear Chairman Houghton:
As you are aware, on March 2, federal spending cuts under the Budget Control Act went into effect. Due to the federal government’s failure to implement thoughtful and efficient spending cuts, and instead cut critical safety services, starting in early April, federal funding for more than a dozen air traffic control towers across Texas will be eliminated. This action far surpasses the grandstanding Americans have come to associate with sequestration talks by potentially jeopardizing the safety of Texas emergency personnel, citizens and visitors. For the protection of Texans everywhere and to minimize any disruption of commerce caused by this action, I ask the Texas Transportation Commission to consider options to provide emergency, temporary assistance for this vital safety network as determined appropriate by the commission. After no more than 90 days, I ask the commission to reevaluate this emergency, temporary funding. While President Obama has chosen to make sequestration as painful as possible, I cannot with good conscience allow him to put his political agenda ahead of public safety.
Upon receipt of Governor Perry’s letter, the Texas Transportation Commission scheduled a special meeting for April 4, 2013, to consider approval of the funding requested. Fortunately, the funding approved by the Commission became unnecessary. Soon thereafter, Congress, realizing the gravity of the situation, passed legislation enabling FAA to cancel the employee furloughs and the closure of the Contract Towers.
We appreciate the support shown by Governor Perry, the Texas Transportation Commission, and TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson to keep our towers operating. However, the effort to ensure continued operation of our Contract Towers is not over. Congress will soon take up the FY 2014 appropriation bill to fund FAA’s program. It is imperative that the bill include the funding necessary for this vital air traffic service.
Air transportation in the United States is not limited by geographical boundaries. It is a national system. The safe and efficient movement of aircraft within this system has always been and should remain a federal responsibility. Contract Towers provide an important and necessary role in the national air transportation system. These towers should continue to be supported by the federal government.