The U.S. Department of Transportation made it official Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration will not furlough air traffic controllers or close 149 low-activity control towers at small airports to meet new budget requirements following recent congressional action.
The Reducing Flight Delays Act allowed the FAA flexibility to move money from its Airport Improvement Program to the personnel account to cover $637 million in planned cuts that would have required controllers to take a day of unpaid leave every two weeks. Hundreds of flights were postponed or cancelled during the week the furloughs were in effect. The disruption caused a storm of protest from the airline industry and the sight of delayed travelers on news broadcasts became a public relations dilemma for Congress, which moved to modify the sequestration rules late last month.
DOT said the law will allow the FAA to transfer sufficient funds from the airport improvement grant program to end the furloughs and keep open the contract towers originally slated for closure in June for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The FAA will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate about $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.
NextGen is a new system of airborne and land-based technologies and procedures that rely on satellites rather than radar for more precise tracking and communications between planes and air traffic controllers. - Eric Kulisch