Mercer Island Reporter


Congress re-affirms intent to keep contract air traffic control towers open, including Renton Municipal

Mercer Island Reporter Reporter
May 8, 2013 · Updated 9:30 AM

Though the federal budget sequester has led to delayed flights at major passenger airports, things are continuing as usual at Renton Municipal Field.

For now.

The airport is, however, among 149 smaller airports around the country that are facing a shutdown of their tower on June 15 without a move of Congress.

But a pair of letters - one from each house - to FAA Chair Ray LaHood make it clear the legislators intend to keep those airports open.

The City of Renton has also joined a lawsuit requesting a stay on the closures, which City Administrator Jay Covington said remains the city's primary focus on the issue.

"We continue to just prepare along with the other cities," Covington said Monday.

Since the city filed its suit April 3, furloughs for FAA-staffed airports, not including Renton, have gone into effect and Congress has appropriated funds to cover the furloughs and maintain the towers at the small airports set for closure.

This week, both houses of Congress reiterated in letters their intentions for the additional money appropriated as part of the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 to be used to avert air-traffic-controller furloughs also be used to keep open the 149 towers set for closure.

"We urge you to ensure that in addition to ending furlough for 47,000 FAA employees, the agency agency also end the planned closure of 149 contract towers," reads the letter signed by 41 senators.

Many members of Congress expressed concerns regarding the FAA's decision to close 149 contract air traffic control towers," reads the letter form the House of Representatives. "To ensure responsible action by FAA and DOT, and to ensure the safety and efficiency of our skies, the Congress has directed this reprogramming of funds by law.

"We expect to hear very soon how the FAA and DOT will take immediate steps to fund the 149 contract air traffic control towers," it concludes.

The House letter is signed by 83 representatives.

Both letters are dated May 2. The additional money would allow the tower to remain open through September, the end of the federal government's fiscal year.

The Renton airport is the sixth-busiest airport in the state, based on takeoffs and landings. Hundreds of Boeing 737s take off from the airport every year.

In March, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these towers as part of the agency’s required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration. The City of Renton has indicated that it doesn't have the money to operate the tower.

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