Congress OKs bill on FAA funding
nProvides money that could keep Lancaster Airport's tower open. BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
A bill that could save the control tower at Lancaster Airport is headed to President Obama's desk for a signature after Congress yielded to the demands of frustrated air travelers.
The U.S. Senate voted Thursday evening to restore funding for furloughed air traffic controllers. The House of Representatives voted Friday.
The quick action came less than a week after the furloughs began Sunday and flights were delayed across the country. On Wednesday alone, there were 863 flights delayed because of the furloughs, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.
The bill allows the FAA to use as much as $253 million from an airport improvement program and other accounts to halt the furloughs through the Sept. 30 end of the government's fiscal year.
That would not affect air traffic controllers in the tower of Lancaster Airport, in Manheim Township, south of Lititz. The seven controllers who work in that tower were not furloughed.
But the bill also allows the funds to be used for FAA operations, including keeping open small airport towers around the country that the agency said it would shut to satisfy the sequester spending cuts.
Lancaster's tower was due to be closed June 15, said David Eberly, the airport director.
"That would be great news," Eberly said of the restoration of tower funding.
Eberly said pilots who use the airport have been very concerned about safety if the tower closed.
"It would be a disaster," he said of the tower closure. "Lancaster is a very busy airport."
There are five flight schools training new pilots in small, single-engine planes. There are also high-performance corporate and military jets and helicopters using the airport.
And, Eberly noted, the runways cross in the middle.
"Anyone who is aware of the complexity of the traffic in Lancaster is concerned about it," he said of a tower shut-down.
The tower closures and controller furloughs were the FAA responses to the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month at numerous government agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration was achieving about a third of its required $637 million in cuts by furloughing nearly all its workers -- including the 15,000 air traffic controllers -- one day every two weeks.
Nationally, there have been nightmarish stories of stranded passengers and delayed flights this week.
The FAA and Transportation Department did not respond to repeated questions about when the controllers' furloughs would end, the Associated Press reported.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)