Bloomberg News

Spokane Airport Sues FAA to Stop Closing of Control Tower

March 26, 2013

March 27 (Bloomberg) --The Spokane, Washington, airport board sued the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to block its shutdown of air-traffic control operations at the city’s Felts Field as a result of agency budget cuts.

The airport’s board said the FAA notified it that the agency “will terminate contract air traffic control operations at Felts Field as early as April 7,” according to its petition for review filed March 25 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

A reliever facility for Spokane International Airport, Felts Field is among 149 small and midsize airports slated to lose air-traffic control services by contractors as part of the FAA’s plan to trim $637 million in spending under so-called sequestration.

The airport board, in a March 22 letter, asked FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to delay the action while the court reviews the petition.

If Huerta declines, “we will ask the court for a temporary restraining order,” Larry Krauter, chief executive officer of the airport board, said in a phone interview.

The letter argues that the FAA has a safety management system “whose very purpose is to assess the risks associated with significant changes to air traffic procedures” before “any such change is implemented, and which the FAA has entirely failed to apply in this action.”

The safety review is among legal obligations which “are not excused by the sequestration legislation,” according to the letter.

Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, declined to comment because the litigation is pending.

Airport Activity

Felts Field has about 52,000 takeoffs and landings annually, just under the average of 54,000 flights for the airports slated to lose contract tower services.

The government staffs control towers at larger airports.

Planes can continue to fly into airports without working control towers. Instead of being guided by controllers, pilots radio one another to manage takeoffs and landings, under FAA procedures.

The shutdowns will be phased in over four weeks. About 750 to 1,100 controllers and supervisors may lose their jobs, according to Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Contract Tower Association.

The case is Spokane Airport Board v. Huerta, 13-1080, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at azajac@bloomberg.net; Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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