State congressional delegation seeks to restore future funding for air traffic control towers

Hartford — Members of the state's congressional delegation announced Monday that they plan to fight to restore federal funding for air traffic control towers beyond the current fiscal year.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, accompanied by legislators from the General Assembly Transportation Committee, spoke at a press event Monday afternoon. Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, recently sponsored a bipartisan bill to restore funding for fiscal year 2013 to 149 air traffic control towers throughout the nation.

The bill passed, but there still isn't a funding source for the air traffic control towers beyond this fiscal year.

"We are not here to do a victory lap. We are here to say this fight continues," Blumenthal said. "These contract towers are not a luxury or an abstract notion."

Instead of dealing with each funding crisis as it comes, Congress needs to close tax loopholes and make "smart" spending cuts, Blumenthal said.

Of the 149 air traffic control towers, six are in Connecticut: Groton-New London, New Haven, Danbury, Bridgeport, Waterbury-Oxford and Hartford-Brainard.

Chet Moore, manager of the Groton-New London tower, said it is the most important of the six. It must coordinate civilian aircraft, corporate jets and military aircraft, all moving at different air speeds. Mixing the different types without supervision can be dangerous, he said.

The Groton-New London tower also oversees a radius of 4 miles of air space around the Millstone nuclear power plant, he said. If a novice pilot decided to linger over the plant to explore, military fighter jets would scramble, which has happened a couple of times since 9/11, he said. The tower also has to direct pilots away from the Naval Submarine Base and Coast Guard Academy.

Without supervision, it could be worse, he said.

Kevin A. Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said the argument to keep the towers running could also be made from an economic standpoint. The airport authority oversees three state-run airports that are at risk: Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard and Waterbury-Oxford, he said.

Those contribute more than $190 million annually toward Connecticut's economy, he said. If these cuts were to happen next year, 15 to 20 air traffic controller jobs would be at risk.

If the smaller towers were to close, many flights would move to the larger airports, causing delays and disruption, DeLauro said.

There would be "immediate detrimental impact on companies across our state who rely on the airports to conduct business," DeLauro said. … "Our delegation will continue to work to see that we do have some sort of a comprehensive fix so that we can prevent these harmful, harmful cuts and focus our time on the future and economic growth and putting our families on the path to economic security."

j.somers@theday.com

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