Court Filing Cites Safety, Cost Concerns
Frederick, MD - The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
(AOPA) in a court filing this week called the Federal Aviation Administration’s
decision to close 149 contract control towers nationwide, “arbitrary,
capricious, and fundamentally flawed, leaving the safety and efficiency
consequences largely unknown.”
In an amicus curiae brief filed as part of a federal lawsuit
against the FAA by municipalities where control towers at airports are slated
to be closed, AOPA argued that the FAA ignored its own safety guidelines.
The decision to close certain towers, AOPA stated, was,
“based solely on the number of operations conducted at the airport and how that
number affects the traveling public. The FAA’s application of this singular
standard fails to take into account the many considerations given to
establishing and maintaining each of these towers.”
In its court brief, AOPA argued that while not every
contract tower may be necessary in today’s airspace environment, the FAA, in
its decision to close certain control towers, failed to consider important
Specifically, AOPA said that the FAA failed to consider,
“the management of (aircraft) approaching, landing, and departing the airport,
the access to the airport, any accident and incident avoidance measures on and
in the vicinity of the airport, the local and national impact on traffic
diverted to other airports, the public’s health and welfare, the public
interests, and environmental impact changes.”
The AOPA brief also states that the FAA “appears totally
unmindful” of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent decision to
make general aviation safety a top priority.
In April the FAA announced that it would close 149 of its
251 contract control towers. Contract towers generally serve general aviation
airports, and federal audits have shown that they are among the FAA’s most
efficient programs when measured by cost and safety. It remains unclear why the
FAA, in choosing to make its sequestration cuts, elected to cut 60 percent of its
most cost-effective program.
There are about 500 control towers in the nation’s air
traffic control system. In addition to 251 contract towers, which are operated
for the FAA by private companies, the FAA itself operates more than 250 control
towers and air traffic control facilities.
The FAA recently announced that it would furlough air
traffic controllers in its facilities as part of sequestration.
But when it did so, the resulting airline delays - and
passenger complaints - prompted Congress to quickly pass legislation that gave
the FAA funding flexibility to keep the towers and control facilities fully
It is not yet clear how the FAA will use that new
flexibility, or whether it will also prevent the closing of contract towers.
Furthermore, that funding relief is only available until
Sept. 30 - the end of federal fiscal year 2013. By law the sequestration spending
cuts are set to continue for 10 years.