Congress moves fast to end furlough of air traffic controllers

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 - President Obama is expected to soon sign legislation into law that will avoid further furloughs of air traffic controllers across the nation, including rural areas.

Congress moved quickly to approve the bills (S. 853, H.R. 1765) at the end of the week.

The Senate approved its bill by unanimous consent on Thursday while the House approved its legislation Friday on a 361-41 vote.

The legislation would provide allow the transportation secretary to transfer funds into the FAA's operations budget to prevent essential employees, such as air traffic controllers, from being furloughed.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., offered the bill in the Senate.

“The challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting; not only is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration compounds the problem,” Collins said. “It is important that sequestration is implemented in a way that ensures safety and minimizes the impact on the traveling public as well as jobs in the hospitality and airline industries.”

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Collins said the FAA recently announced plans to achieve savings by implementing furloughs, closures of contract towers, and elimination of midnight services.

“These irresponsible cuts have already caused widespread delays to the air transportation system and are expected to get worse,” Collins said, “Our bipartisan bill would restore the funding for these essential programs, and I am pleased that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that this is an effective, workable solution."

The bill's language provides the FAA with more than enough funding flexibility to protect the 149 contract control towers slated for closure as well, noted Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Many of those control towers are located in rural areas.

“This bipartisan solution is a victory for air travelers and communities nationwide,” Moran noted.


As a result of the legislation, the FAA announced Saturday that it has suspended all employee furloughs.

“Air traffic facilities will begin to return to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours and the system will resume normal operations by Sunday evening,” the FAA said.

Udall described the furloughs of air traffic controllers as “indiscriminate effects of sequestration.”

“[This legislation] gives the Department of Transportation the flexibility it needs to put air traffic controllers back to work and ensure that these cuts are not a drag on our economy,” Udall said. “We need to reduce the deficit and cut federal spending, but we should not allow sequestration to cripple travel, tourism, business and commerce - all critical parts of our ongoing economic recovery.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., greeted the congressional action.

“We hope the Obama Administration and the FAA will see fit to use the authority they have been given to keep open the airport control towers in Columbia and more than 140 other airports across the country,” Hartzler said. “The traveling public and the hard-working air traffic controllers in Columbia should not have to suffer as a result of poor spending decisions.”

Hartzler she would “have preferred specific language requiring the FAA to keep open the contract towers, but this bill at least forces the FAA to prioritize its spending to avoid further furloughs and prevent the closure of control towers.”



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