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Graves Seeks Answers on Proposed Air Traffic Control Tower Closure at Rosecrans

Leads letter to Federal officials regarding ‘highly disproportionate’ and ‘reckless’ cut in aviation program

(Washington, DC)  U.S. Congressman Sam Graves (MO-06) led a letter with colleagues Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-03), Billy Long (MO-07), and Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta this week seeking clarification on recent actions taken by the FAA that indicate the agency is seeking to close 238 air traffic control towers nationwide due to sequestration, including at Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, MO.  While the Budget Control Act put in place a five percent across-the-board cut to all discretionary programs, the FAA is apparently going to apply a roughly 75 percent cut to its Contract Tower Program, which the Department of Transportation Inspector General has determined is both cost-effective and a sound use of tax payer dollars.  The vast majority of the towers the FAA would shutter – 189, including Rosecrans – fall under that program. 

Specifically, the group asked Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta to explain how they reached their decision, particularly given concerns regarding public safety, and where in the Budget Control Act they believe the agency has the authority to enact so drastic a cut.  The members wrote that “[a] 75% cut such as this is highly disproportionate to what is authorized under sequestration and borders on reckless behavior when one considers the national importance control towers play in aviation safety.”

“The president and the administration are using scare tactics when it comes to sequestration, plain and simple,” said Congressman Graves, who also signed another letter with 44 colleagues seeking additional details from the FAA regarding the impact these closures would have on our “aviation infrastructure’s structural integrity” and a list of alternative ideas that were considered in lieu of cutting the Contract Tower Program so dramatically.  “I find it hard to believe that, when forced to make a five percent cut in its budget, the FAA cannot come up with better ideas than threatening to jeopardize public safety by closing towers like the one at Rosecrans.  Report after report has shown fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs, including at the FAA, which spends $500 million on consultants and $200 million on travel annually.  They should start there.”

At a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Aviation last month, Congressman Graves questioned Administrator Huerta about the cuts, noting that sequestration would only bring the FAA back to 2010 funding levels.  The Obama Administration had been insisting that with sequestration would come 90-minute flight delays and longer security lines, for instance.   

“Administrator Huerta noted that, between 2008 and 2012, his agency’s operations account had increased by $910 million, and personnel costs increased $887 million,” Congressman Graves noted.  “So my question is, why can’t the agency find $30 million a month to cut without targeting public safety?”

Abe Forney, Airport General Manager at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, said “Discontinuing the Contract Tower Program at Rosecrans Memorial Airport would have an extremely negative effect on a national level.  The Rosecrans Memorial Airport supports the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard and the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center.  Both organizations support vital defense efforts associated with national defense posture and domestic emergency response to FEMA Region 7 and the greater nation.  The 139th is the home of over 1,000 airmen operating the C-130 aircraft. The training required to maintain this capability encompasses day and night operations.  Because the Rosecrans Memorial Airport is a joint use airport it has unique operations.  Keeping the control tower open is vital to maintaining a safe and efficient airport.”

On Tuesday, Congressman Graves met with 25 members of the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce, including Mayor Bill Falkner, Deputy Mayor Byron Myers, and Chamber President and CEO Patt Lilly, to discuss the proposed tower closure and other matters of concern to the city’s civic leaders.

A copy of the letter from members of the Missouri delegation can be accessed below.

BACKGROUND: Within Missouri, the FAA has indicated that it plans to close air traffic control towers in St. Joseph, Branson, Columbia, Jefferson City, and Joplin.  According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, the aviation industry employs over 16,000 people in the state.

 

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Missouri Delegation letter to DOT and FAA (03/15/13 03:55 PM PST)