FAA closing Dubuque air traffic control; Waterloo, Sioux City spared for now

The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that beginning on April 7, it will close 149 air traffic control towers across the country. The Dubuque Regional Airport tower is the only Iowa facility on the list (pdf). An airport official told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that service in and out of the airport will continue. I haven’t seen any reports confirming which facility will route air traffic in and out of Dubuque after April 7.

The cuts are related to the “sequester” of federal budget funds, which began last month. Originally the FAA had planned to close more air traffic control towers, including those in Waterloo and Sioux City. However, a press release stated that the agency decided “to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.” Another salient fact is that Dubuque “hires privately contracted employees,” whereas “Waterloo and Sioux City employees are unionized FAA workers.”

I’ve posted the whole statement from the FAA after the jump, as well as Representative Bruce Braley’s comment. The first Congressional district includes Dubuque and Waterloo. Braley voted against a continuing spending resolution on Thursday, in part because it did not reverse the “sequester” cuts.

Federal Aviation Administration press release, March 22:

WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached the decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan. The agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.

An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

In early March, FAA proposed to close 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration and announced that it would consider keeping open any of these towers if doing so would be in the national interest.

The national interest considerations included: (1) significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security; (2) significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community; (3) significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and (4) the extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.

In addition to reviewing materials submitted on behalf of towers on the potential closure list, DOT consulted with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and conducted operational assessments of each potential tower closure on the national air transportation system.

Some communities will elect to participate in FAA’s non-federal tower program and assume the cost of continued, on-site air traffic control services at their airport (see Advisory Circular AC 90-93A.) The FAA is committed to facilitating this transition.

The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the 149 federal contract towers beginning on April 7.

Excerpt from a Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier report of March 19:

Braley spokesman Jeff Giertz said Dubuque likely would lose its tower before Waterloo or Sioux City, because Dubuque hires privately contracted employees. Waterloo and Sioux City employees are unionized FAA workers, “and FAA would have to basically engage in contract negotiations before they could close those down,” Giertz said. “Our understanding is they haven’t initiated any of those discussions yet.”

Giertz said it “would be safe to say” that closure of the Waterloo tower is possible, but likely not as “immediate” as the closure of the Dubuque tower might be.

“Our office is continuing to work with airport directors and impress upon the FAA the importance of these towers to Dubuque and Waterloo,” Giertz said. “We’re making the case as best we can that these are important towers and we’re concerned about their possible closure.

Press release from Braley’s office, March 22 (emphasis in original):

Braley Statement on FAA Decision to Close Dubuque Air Traffic Control Tower

FAA cites “sequestration” as reason behind decision to close Dubuque tower

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today released the following statement in response to the FAA’s announcement that they are closing the Dubuque Regional Airport’s air traffic control tower due to federal budget cuts caused by so-called “sequestration.”

“I’m extremely disappointed that the FAA has decided to close the Dubuque air traffic control tower.  This decision is the direct result of Congress’ recklessness and failure to make smart decisions about deficit reduction.

“This is exactly why I broke with my party yesterday and opposed a short-term government funding bill that continues the sequester through the end of September and allows the closure of the Dubuque air traffic control tower to go forward.  That bill was bad for Dubuque and now we’re seeing its effect.

“It’s Congress’ responsibility to make the tough decisions about what programs to cut and what programs to keep.  I’m going to keep working to convince Congress to accept that responsibility and do their job to reduce the debt.  In the meantime, I’ll do everything I can to pressure the FAA to reverse this misguided decision.”

Last week, Braley wrote to the FAA to express opposition to the proposed closure of the tower, citing the potentially detrimental impact it would have on commercial air service to Dubuque and the University of Dubuque’s professional pilot training program.  More information on Braley’s letter to the FAA can be found at the following link: http://go.usa.gov/2dGW

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