New FAA budget could keep state’s air control towers open

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI: The Federal Aviation Administration’s budget for fiscal 2014 assumes an end to the federal fiscal sequester and proposes including money to keep open 149 contract air traffic control towers around the country, including five in Mississippi, previously targeted for loss of FAA funding.

The tower funding is proposed to continue under the FAA’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $15.6 billion. The request represents a $351 million reduction from fiscal 2012, the agency says.

However, the FAA’s proposed budget for 2014 assumes a long-term solution to the nation’s budget deficit is reached and no sequester, according to the FAA.

“The 2014 proposed budget would allow us to maintain staffing for air traffic control and aviation safety,” the agency said in a press statement.

airplane-landing_rgbMeanwhile, a reprieve for the five Mississippi air traffic control towers comes as a side benefit of Congress acting quickly to prevent flight delays at the nation’s largest airports.

FAA contract towers that had been slated to lose funding on June 15 were at Hawkins Field, Jackson; Stennis International, Bay St. Louis; Mid Delta Regional, Greenville; Tupelo Regional and Olive Branch. Those towers will remain open with federal funding through the end of 2013, as will all 149 contract towers the FAA had targeted for total funding losses as part of across-the-board budget cuts mandated by the FAA. The contract towers are staffed by non-FAA controllers but paid by the agency.

As the FAA funding cuts and furloughs at major national airports kicked in this spring, Congress and the White House came under huge pressure to restore at least some funding. That led to passage of the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013.

Outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said on May 10 that the DOT, which oversees the FAA, has determined that the recently enacted funding rescue “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.”

In recent testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on FAA Reauthorization , FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the sequester is requiring the FAA to make sizeable budget cuts that affect our operations and our future. “While we are grateful that Congress found a temporary solution to the FAA furloughs, this stop-gap measure does not end the sequester,” Huerta said.

“We will not enjoy the benefits or the stability that reauthorization provides until we end the sequester and find a sensible long-term solution.”

The money to fund the congressional stop-gap measure comes from funds that had been allocated for airport infrastructure improvements around the country.

In a joint statement, the American Airport Executives Association and the U.S. Contract Tower Association voiced gratitude to the senators and House members who acted quickly to restore the funding. “Their dedication and determination give us great hope for the long-term success of the contract tower program,” the statement said.

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