Airport sues over tower closure

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Airport sues over tower closure =
=20
=20


By LYNNETTE HINTZE/The Daily Inter Lake | Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2=
013 10:00 pm
The Flathead Municipal Airport Authority that owns an=
d=20
operates Glacier Park International Airport has asked a federal court to
reverse the Federal Aviation Administration=E2=80=99s recent decision to c=
lose=20
Glacier=E2=80=99s air-traffic control tower because of sequestration budget=
=20
cuts.


The local authority, along with the Friedman Memorial=
Airport=20
Authority in Hailey, Idaho, filed a lawsuit Friday in the U.S. Ninth=20
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, petitioning the court to=20
review the FAA=E2=80=99s decision to withdraw the money necessary to operat=
e the
local control tower. Attorneys have asked the FAA to postpone closing=20
the local tower until the court can review that decision. 


The FAA decided to close air-traffic control towers a=
t 149 small and=20
midsize airports in response to congressionally mandated sequestration=20
and a need for the FAA to cut $637 million from its $16 billion budget.
But,
rather than make an across-the-board cut throughout the entire agency=20
budget as some federal agencies have done, the FAA chose to cut=20
air-traffic services at some airports entirely and furlough personnel at to=
wers across the country.
Glacier Park International=E2=80=99s tower is on the =
list of closures and is scheduled to shut down May 5. 
=E2=80=9CThe
FAA did not consider any local site-specific operational realities or=20
the impact on nationwide air traffic operations,=E2=80=9D Glacier Airport=
=20
Director Cindi Martin said.   
The lawsuit argues that having a=20
working tower at the local airport provides an added layer of safety and
confidence on a year-round basis that is important to preserve.  
=E2=80=9CGiven
the amount of commercial and private aircraft traffic in the nation=E2=80=
=99s=20
skies, we are unwilling to accept any backtracking on safety,=E2=80=9D Mart=
in=20
said.

The closure of the local control tower won=E2=80=99t =
affect airport=20
operations. Glacier Park International tower is open from 8 a.m. to=20
midnight, so the airport already operates with uncontrolled air space=20
outside of that time frame.
Aircraft are tracked by the Salt Lake=20
City airport radar system until they enter Glacier Park=E2=80=99s five-mile=
=20
airspace. When the tower closes, pilots will use visual flight rules as=20
they did in pre-tower days, Martin said. 
The lawsuit filed by the
Flathead and Friedman authorities is one of a number of similar suits=20
filed by airports across the country that face control tower closures.

Airports
losing their towers averaged 54,000 flights in 2011, the most recent=20
year for which FAA statistics are available, according to Bloomberg=20
News.
The American Association of Airport Executives and it=
s=20
affiliate organization, the U.S. Contract Tower Association, sent a=20
letter on Tuesday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, asking for an=20
immediate administrative stay of the agency=E2=80=99s decision to close the=
149=20
control towers until the various circuit courts of appeal can review the
decision. The associations contend the decision is not based on=20
substantial evidence and is arbitrary and capricious.

=E2=80=9CNothing=20
exists in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act … that
mandates this draconian outcome,=E2=80=9D Kenneth Quinn, an attorney for t=
he=20
associations, said in the letter to Huera. =E2=80=9CWith 251 towers in the=
=20
program, the proposed closure represents a nearly 60 percent reduction=20
in the contract tower program, which far exceeds the 5 percent cuts=20
being implemented in other areas of the FAA=E2=80=99s budget. No justifiabl=
e=20
reason exists to single out the contract tower program and make it the=20
Administration=E2=80=99s poster child for sequestration cuts.=E2=80=9D

Quinn also=20
pointed out the FAA didn=E2=80=99t undertake any environmental assessment o=
f the
impact of closing the towers, such as shifting noise and air quality=20
over areas not previously impacted. The associations further allege the=20
loss of controlled airspace could add more than 13,500 flight hours a=20
year, resulting in delays, increased fuel consumption, and productivity=20
losses.
 
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e=
mail at lhintze@dailyinterlak=
e.com.

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