Arkansas lawmakers back bill to keep air traffic control towers open


WASHINGTON — Air=traffic control towers in Fayetteville and Texarkana, as well as 147 other airports, would remain open under legislation introduced by Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to close the towers on June 15 as part of $637 million in spending reductions.

Congress last month passed a law establishing appropriations for the remaining six months of the 2013 fiscal year that modified some of the cuts under so-called sequestration — but not those to FAA.

Cotton introduced his legislation Tuesday to shift funding from FAA facilities and research budgets to cover the cost of manning the towers. The bill has two co-sponsors: Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.

“Local air traffic control towers have served a vital role in our country’s aviation infrastructure for over 30 years and are integral to the success of local businesses and rural communities. They prove to be a safe, cost-effective alternative to federally operated towers in low-traffic areas and should not be closed without an opportunity to evaluate alternative approaches the FAA could take within its operating budget,” Cotton said in a statement Wednesday.

Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman signed onto legislation, introduced Tuesday by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to force the FAA to look elsewhere for its sequester-required reductions as the towers would have to stay open. The bill has 18 co-sponsors.

“These tower closures would not only negatively impact jobs and economic development in our state, but across the whole country. The Senate should take up and pass this bill immediately,” Pryor said in a statement Wednesday.

During Senate debate last month on the six-month spending bill, Moran was denied an opportunity to offer an amendment that would have kept the towers open.

On March 22, the FAA announced that it would stop federal funding for 149 contract towers across the country. A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin last Sunday but FAA last week announced a delay to June 15 to give communities and airports more time to consider alternatives.

The Fayetteville City Council recently decided to set aside as much as $250,000 from its reserves to keep the air traffic control tower at Drake Field operating beyond the proposed FAA closure.