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WV Sen. Rockefeller questions FAA on tower closures

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is not happy with the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to close 149 contractor-operated air traffic control towers across the nation this summer, including three in West Virginia.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said during an April 16 hearing on aviation safety that the FAA isn't being transparent enough regarding its plans to implement federal budget cuts.

The cuts came as a result of sequestration and could cause the closure of air traffic control towers in Wheeling, Parkersburg and Lewisburg. Rockefeller voted in February to stop sequestration, or automatic across-the-board budget cuts.

"I have expressed my concern on numerous occasions about the impact closing these towers would have on the communities that depend on them, including three in West Virginia," Rockefeller told FAA Administrator Michael Huerta April 16.

"I am frustrated with the lack of transparency on how the agency made its decisions, and how it intends to implement budget cuts," Rockefeller added. "West Virginians expect – and deserve – clarity. And Congress has to have a better understanding of the specifics."

In addition to the three tower closures, other airport services in West Virginia could be affected by these budget cuts. Air traffic control services at Tri-State Airport in Huntington could be cut, including the elimination of midnight shifts at both that airport and Yeager Airport in Charleston.

Rockefeller wrote last month to FAA officials expressing his concern about budget cut implementation, just days before the agency announced it would close 149 air traffic control towers. Last week, Rockefeller wrote a second letter, cosigned by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., asking the FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation to review its plan in light of its effect on rural communities who depend on their local airports.

"I appreciate the tough decisions every federal government agency must make these days, but those choices still must be smart, driven by good policy and not unfairly burden rural communities like those in West Virginia," Rockefeller said.