Wednesday, May 15, 2013

FAA to fund tower through September

Airport files suit in federal district court


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

    The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Friday that it would use part of the $253 million granted to it by Congress earlier this month to keep air traffic control towers open—including the one at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.
    The Department of Transportation issued a short news release on Friday stating that the “Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013” would allow the FAA to keep the 149 “low activity” contract towers originally slated for closure in June open through September.
    The act was originally passed on April 26 and provided the FAA with $253 million that would enable them to cut air traffic controller furloughs short and fund air traffic control towers through the end of fiscal year 2013.
    However, the legislation lacked specific language directing the FAA to use that money to fund 149 towers that are operated under contract and were slated for closure in June. More than 100 members of Congress and a coalition of 70 city mayors—including Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle—sent letters to the FAA directing them to use that money as was intended by Congress.
    The tower at Friedman Memorial Airport will now be fully funded by the FAA through Sept. 30. The airport will not have to spend the nearly $170,000 approved by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority last week to keep the tower open through the summer.
    Meanwhile, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority has joined 40 other airports and the American Association of Airport Executives in filing for a motion for stay. An airport staff report given to the Airport Authority on May 7 states that the purpose of the motion was to “encourage” the court to make a decision on a case that challenges the agency’s decision to close federal air traffic control towers.
    A summary prepared by Denver-based aviation attorney Peter Kirsch of Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell states that a brief was filed on Monday, May 6. All litigation regarding the closure of the towers has been consolidated under the case name Spokane Airport Board v. Huerta and will be heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
    Kirsh said in his summary that the petitioners argue that the administrative record prepared by the FAA used to justify closing the towers—a compilation of all of the documents and information used to reach the decision—was “sloppy, perfunctory, inconsistent and filled with errors.”
    “It is clear that the FAA did little or no analysis before deciding to close these towers,” Kirsch wrote.
    Kirsch said the petitioners are also arguing that the FAA did not consider the safety implications of closing the towers before making the decision, at least not to the extent that federal law requires.
    “The FAA did not even begin any safety analysis until after it had made the closure decision,” Kirsch wrote. “The agency has not even started analysis on an airport-by-airport basis.”
    Kirsh further argues that the FAA ignored its own policies in not doing a cost-benefit analysis or airport-specific evaluation of the impact on aircraft operations before making the decision to close the towers, violated federal law by not considering environmental impacts of the decision and “arbitrarily” ordered tower closures, ignoring even its own newly created criteria.
    A hearing is scheduled for June 5 in Pasadena, Calif.
Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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