Craig Fuller, president and chief executive officer of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), on Wednesday leveled sharp criticism at the sequestration cuts planned by the Obama administration and the FAA, suggesting that the decision to close control towers and scale back aviation services constitutes a risk to aviation safety.
“The White House budget office has forced troubling, and possibly dangerous, cuts on the FAA,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Rational savings can be found, and we are ready to work with the FAA and the Department of Transportation to build workable solutions. But closing more than 200 air traffic control towers, derailing certification, and allowing our navigational aid system to deteriorate just doesn’t make sense. These are vital FAA commitments and abandoning them is unsafe, unwise, and unacceptable to AOPA members.”
During an appearance at the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2013 in Las Vegas, Fuller urged the FAA to step back from its planned cuts and work with aviation industry groups on alternative spending reductions that would have little impact on air safety and general aviation operations.
“I fear that administration officials are driving a process that will have dire consequences for air safety and general aviation,” Fuller said. “General aviation is under assault from people who either don’t understand the dangerous consequences of their actions, or worse, simply do not care. We are calling on the Obama administration to grant FAA the necessary flexibility to find more rational savings.”
On March 1 the administration and Congress failed to halt legislation that imposes automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts of $85 billion. FAA officials told aviation industry representatives that its share of cuts would total $600 million – the largest portion of the cuts sustained by the Department of Transportation.
To reach those savings, FAA officials have decided to close nearly 200 control towers at airports around the country, reduce repairs to most of the nation’s navigational aids, and give most of the FAA’s 47,000 employees a one-day-per-pay-period furlough.
The FAA’s plan has caused confusion in a number of communities with airports that rely on control towers. The FAA has identified 77 essential operating areas. But general aviation aircraft often operate at smaller airports that are closer to destinations and business sites outside of major metropolitan areas. Those communities could experience a drastic reduction in aviation services, revenue, and jobs if the cuts go forward as planned in April.
Fuller told the audience at Heli-Expo that AOPA has already recommended a number of streamlining initiatives and spending cuts that the FAA could adopt without any impact on the strong record of general aviation air safety. These suggestions include adopting an AOPA-EAA proposal that would allow pilots to use their driver’s licenses in lieu of third-class FAA medicals.
Fuller suggested the FAA revisit its planned cuts and work with AOPA and other aviation groups to find better ways to achieve them.
“Voters did not ask for fewer towers!” Fuller said, referring to the November presidential election. “They did not ask for fewer controllers! They will not tolerate safety reductions! And neither will we.”