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Airport tower funding restored

FAA says closures officially halted through September

By Corene Brisendine

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Friday that the 149 air-traffic control towers slated for closure in June —including the one at Manhattan Regional Airport — will remain open though the end of September following the passage of a bill that restored funding to the FAA.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release that the Department of Transportation “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. . . open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.” The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 was passed last week unanimously by the Senate and by a strong bipartisan majority in the House.

Congress passed the law giving the transportation department the ability to shuffle $253 million in funding to cover the air-controller contracts, which included the 149 towers slated for closure following federal funding cuts.

The FAA also stated it “will put $10 million toward reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate about $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.”

The act only secures funding for the next four months, leaving the long-term future of the air towers uncertain. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has been working with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., since April on a bill to secure funding for control towers through fiscal year 2014.

Moran and Blumenthal sought to reverse what they saw as disproportionate cuts to the Contract Control Tower Program. On April 9, they introduced the Protect Our Skies Act, which Moran’s office described as bipartisan legislation to protect air-traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America. Co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 34 senators, it would prohibit the transportation department from closing any air-traffic control towers during fiscal years 2013 or 2014, including those that are operated by the FAA.

Moran said in a press release that “a report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under sequestration.”

The sequestration is spending cuts targeted on increases in operating budgets within the federal government, and does not focus on budget figures prior to 2012.

Manhattan Regional Airport administrators and city officials were unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

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