Klobuchar, Franken press for bipartisan legislation to keep air traffic control towers open

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and 16 other senators introduced bipartisan legislation that would keep air traffic control towers across Minnesota open.

The bipartisan Protect Our Skies Act, authored by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from suspending operation of any air traffic control towers through the end of fiscal year 2014, helping to keep air travel safe and local airports strong. The bill would help make sure that towers at St. Cloud Regional Airport, Anoka County-Blaine Airport, Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie and Crystal Airport remain open.

“Air traffic control towers are critical to maintaining safety in our skies and ensuring local airports can operate efficiently and effectively,” said Klobuchar. “This legislation will help make sure Minnesota’s airports have the resources they need to keep passengers safe so that our aviation system can continue to be the strongest in the world.”

“Regional airports all over Minnesota connect people and businesses to the rest of the world, and it’s critical that we do everything possible to keep them operating as safely as possible,” said Sen. Franken. “By keeping our air traffic control towers open, this legislation will protect our local economies and ensure that Minnesotans can count on safe, reliable air travel.”

Klobuchar has worked hard to keep local airport towers up and running.  She cosponsored amendments to the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution (CR) and to the FY 2014 Senate Budget to keep contract towers open, and also sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders urging them to provide funding to ensure the towers remain open. The budget amendment passed by unanimous consent.

Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and has been a leader in pushing to strengthen aviation standards and support local airports. She introduced bipartisan legislation to toughen airline safety rules. A number of the important provisions from this bill were included in the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2011. She also successfully pushed the FAA to issue much-needed updates to airline safety standards to combat pilot fatigue. In addition, she cosponsored the Passenger Bill of Rights, which requires airlines to provide passengers with adequate resources during tarmac delays and limits the number of hours a plane can sit on the ground with passengers aboard.

  • PlayFair3

    What’s going unreported is the FAA has also furloughed all of its Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASI). Just like control towers, each of these inspectors is in place because risks have been identified to exist without them. ASIs are safety critical positions responsible for ensuring the airlines operate at the highest level of safety in the public interest. These are the same professionals that are (were?) supposed to make sure the Boeing 787 battery fix continues to work during actual passenger operations – not just on some workbench. The same professionals that are (were) supposed to make sure the latest Boeing 737 inspections are accomplished correctly. The FAA says having ASIs perform inspections aboard revenue flights is in the best interests of aviation safety and the traveling public and makes a positive difference in safety. A lot of those travelers may now be asking how slashing a program that’s in the best interest of their safety can possibly be a good idea. How indeed, especially since the potential exists for this to involve a considerable number of airline flights and ultimately passengers. Considering the total number of furlough days for all ASIs is 30,800 (2800 inspectors x 11 days), it would follow that 30,800 must also be close to the number of missed opportunities to perform en route inspections (at just 1 inspection per day).
    So how can this be a good idea? The answer is it can’t. Now, don’t get me wrong. The FAA has said it will focus on making safety their number one priority. But is the best way to do that really by dropping safety critical activities from a growing national airspace system for what amounts to 30,800 days of lost coverage? Especially when more and more safety issues are being reported every day? Incredibly, it appears this decision to furlough every ASI was based on money, not safety (something the agency says it does not do) and there was no formal system analysis or risk assessment. These are safety management methodologies that FAA Orders direct the agency to use and document when making such determinations regarding the national airspace system. No, these furloughs were simply the easiest way simple minded bureaucrats could avoid any meaningful decision making. As a frequent air traveler who is always happy to see an FAA inspector on board my flight, I really hope this gets fixed soon.

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