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Florida U.S. Senator Rubio joins fight over airport towers

Apr. 13, 2013
Bob Ball
Bob Ball
Marco Rubio

Towers at risk

Florida towers at risk of closure through sequester related budget cuts:
» Page Field in Fort Myers
» Naples Municipal Airport
» Punta Gorda Airport
» Linder Airport in Lakeland
» Naples Municipal, Boca Raton
» New Smyrna Beach Municipal
» North Perry in Hollywood
» Leesburg International
» Ocala International-Jim Taylor Field
» Ormond Beach Municipal
» Northeast Florida Regional in St. Augustine
» Albert Whitted in St. Petersburg
» Witham Field in Stuart and Space Coast Regional in Titusville.


A bipartisan effort to spare air traffic control towers from budget-related closure is throttling-up in the U.S. Senate.

On Friday, the office of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., confirmed Marco Rubio, the junior senator and Republican from Florida, has signaled his support for the Protect Our Skies Act.

“Sen. Rubio has signed on to the bill. It’s gaining a lot of traction,” said Garrette Silverman, a spokeswoman for Moran, an early sponsor of the bill along with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Richard Blumenthal D-Conn.

Rubio’s office in Washington, D.C., couldn’t be reached late Friday afternoon for comment.

The bill filed on Tuesday would prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration from closing any air traffic control towers. The FAA says it’s still planning to go ahead with the closings, on June 15.

In Fort Myers, Lee County Port Authority’s chief executive, Bob Ball, applauded the Senate’s pro-tower push. Among the 149 towers at immediate risk are those at Page Field, Naples Municipal and Punta Gorda Airport. Southwest Florida International is not on the list: It is unclear how the local international airport might be affected by FAA-planned furloughs for its air traffic controllers system-wide.

Closing the towers makes absolutely no sense, Ball said Wednesday, shortly after the bill’s filing was reported.

The closures, announced last month, were part of the FAA’s estimated $600 million in budget cuts required under federal sequestration.

Ball referred a reporter to analysis in a newsletter by the Boyd Group International aviation consultancy. It noted that, even with the sequester cuts, the FAA would have a budget that’s more than 9 percent higher than that of 2008.

The Boyd Group argues the cut, representing just 3.8 percent of the agency’s 2012 budget “Is not a draconian slash and not one that dictates furloughing controllers ... and closing towers.”

If the tower closures and furloughs do occur, the Boyd Group projects “mid-size communities,where a lot of strong growth is occurring, will be hampered with less air service. Don’t think for one moment that this FAA sequester stunt will not ultimately have an effect on airline service decisions.”

Lee port authority staff met Wednesday evening with Page Field users, to discuss ways to support safe airport operations if the tower is shuttered, but also to encourage pilots and others to voice their opinions about the closures to lawmakers.

To keep the towers open, Ball said, “We need support from the entire aviation community.”

The first chance to discuss the legislation could come at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on aviation safety set for Tuesday.

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