By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
A bill in the U.S. Senate filed Tuesday would keep airport control towers open, but a vote has not yet been scheduled.
The bill, S. 687, would prohibit the closing of air traffic control towers that had been identified by the Federal Aviation Administration in a cost-cutting move as part of sequestration. The FAA had planned to shut off funding to 149 towers operated by contractors, with the closings originally planned to have started last Sunday. The tower at Tupelo Regional Airport was set to close May 5.
Other airports in Mississippi that are on the closure list are Greenville’s Delta Regional Airport, Jackson’s Hawkins Field, Bay St. Louis’ Stennis International Airport and Olive Branch Airport.
The agency last last week delayed the closures until June 15, citing reviews of pending lawsuits and moves by some communities to fund the towers.
Among the 18 co-sponsors of the “Protect Our Skies” bill is U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
“I led the fight in the House committee and on the House floor to build the Tupelo contract control tower,” he said. “The federal contract tower program performs critical safety functions and is important to airports in Mississippi. This legislation would keep the towers operating and minimize the impact of the severe and disproportionate budget cuts that the program is set to receive. The bill is still in committee, but I am hopeful it will receive timely consideration.”
The Senate bill would prevent the FAA from suspending or terminating any air traffic control tower in operation as of March 1, whether it’s run by the agency or by a contractor.
Also, the legislation calls for the FAA to resume operations of any tower closed after March 1 and before the bill is enacted.