April 23, 2013

Schumer, Gillibrand Push Two-Pronged Plan to Keep Ithaca Airport Contract Tower Open For Long-Term – Calls On FAA To Reverse Course Considering Grave Safety & Economic Implications for Travelers & Upstate Communities

Ithaca-Tompkins & Griffiss Int’l Are Only Airport Control Towers Scheduled For Closure in NY, Set for June 15th - Senators Argue That Airports Are Essential For Local Economies, Growth of Local Businesses & Universities, And Security

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the federal government to avoid closing the air traffic control tower at the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport, which is critical to the local communities, businesses and economic growth. Specifically, Schumer and Gillibrand wrote a letter to FAA Administrator Huerta to urge that he reverse course on plans to close the towers at Ithaca-Tompkins and Griffiss International Airport on June 15, 2013; these are the only airport contract towers set for closure in the state. In addition to this short-term measure, the Senators wrote a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, to urge that they restore full funding for the Federal Contract Tower Program in their FY 2014 Appropriations bill, to ensure the long-term existence of these two towers, in addition to others in Upstate New York. In particular, the Senators noted that Ithaca Tompkins is the only tower slated for closure in New York that runs full commercial service, and a loss would have a serious impact on local universities and businesses.

“Ithaca-Tompkins is the only commercial airport set for tower closure in New York, and this would have a huge impact on local universities and businesses: we simply should not allow this to happen,” said Senator Schumer. “While I can value the need to cut waste – it should not be on the backs of Upstate New York residents, businesses, universities, and the local economies. I am urging FAA Administrator Huerta to reverse course on this closure set for June 15th, and we are urging our colleagues in the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore full funding for this contract tower program next year, to avoid this disruptive and dangerous exercise in the future.”

“This is the wrong way to produce savings in our budget, and instead will just come as a major setback to our safety, and our economy,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Ithaca’s thriving universities and high-tech sectors rely on dependable commercial air service. We need to keep this airport fully up and running, and find smarter ways to cut spending.”

“In a growing, knowledge-based economy such as ours, mobility and access are absolutely critical,” said Martha Robertson, Chair, Tompkins County Legislature . “The defunding of our control tower, and the loss of air service that will likely follow, will have a devastating effect on the economy of Upstate New York. We appreciate the fact that Senators Schumer and Gillibrand recognize the real costs of closing the tower far outweigh any savings to the FAA, and are fighting to restore funds.”

Due to the sequester, the FAA must automatically cut $637 million from their operations this year. To adhere to these cuts, they are cutting approximately $50 million from the Federal Contract Tower Program. The Administration plans to withdraw funding for contractors that staff control towers at some 149 small airports. An FAA Contract Tower is a privately-run control tower that receives a federal subsidy from the FAA. 

The Senators highlighted that both the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport and Griffiss International Airport are essential to their local communities. The Ithaca-Tompkins Airport is the only tower in New York State slated to close that runs full commercial service.  A reduction or loss of this service for the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport will have a significant adverse economic impact on the regional economy, where an estimated $1 billion each year is infused into the New York State economy by the 20,000 students of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3).  Together, Cornell, Ithaca College, and TC3 employ 11,500 people and generate $2.5 billion in annual economic activity.  However, Tompkins County is geographically isolated; it is not near an interstate highway or passenger rail system.  As a result, the Ithaca-Tompkins airport is of significant importance.  It is the primary means of mobility and access for faculty, students, researchers, entrepreneurs, customers, and investors. 

Commercial aviation provides more than 10 million jobs in the United States and helps drive over $1 trillion in economic activity in the country each year. Organizations, trade groups and union groups, such as the Air Line Pilots Association, have pointed to the negative impacts that furloughs have on employees and consumers.

 

A copy of the Senators’ letters to FAA Administrator Huerta and to the Senate Appropriations Committee appear below:

Dear Administrator Huerta:

We write to you today in regards to the impending closure of 149 contract air traffic controller towers. Constituents in our state, those whose communities will be negatively impacted by these decisions have expressed significant concerns about the closures and the impacts said closures will have on their communities. Additional concerns have been raised about FAA’s plans to remove equipment at these towers adding additional challenges and delays to the restoration of control tower service were that to become permissible at a future date. In New York State, two airports are facing the loss of these towers: Ithaca Tompkins Regional (ITH) and Griffiss International Airport.

Stakeholders in the Tompkins County, New York region have expressed serious concerns that the impact to community, way of life, economy and education have not been considered as a factor in the proposed closures. Some of their major concerns include the fact that of the NYS airports slated to lose towers services, Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport is the only airport that offers commercial service, and the loss of their tower presents additional challenges. Restrictions on airspace occupancy without a tower will lead to delays in the departures and arrivals of flights. Concerns have been raised that these factors lead to customer dissatisfaction, and coupled with perceptions of threats to safety will lead to reduced bookings, and pose real threat to the future of commercial service. Airport and County Management have worked diligently throughout the years to procure carriers and the loss of this service would be irrevocable.

In a geographically isolated region, with no access to major thoroughfares, the airport  is the life blood of the community, and its economic vitality. Tompkins County consistently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in New York due to a varied and strong economy that includes tourism, high-tech industry, preeminent educational institutions and more. All of these industries are closely tied to the availability of reliable commercial air service. Without the availability of air service Cornell and Ithaca College will be hamstrung to recruit and retain the high caliber world renowned researchers and faculty it depends upon.  High-tech businesses conducting international commerce could suffer, and a major expansion has already been suspended indefinitely as a result.

The Griffiss tower is critical for our nation’s security and economy.  The Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, U.S. Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve have utilized Griffiss as a staging base for disaster relief operations and continue using it in their emergency response planning for the entire New England, New York City and Long Island region.  This airport directly improves the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Military, supporting their primary mission to ensure the safety and security of our nation.  

It is our understanding that the FAA intends to leave equipment at many of the closed towers, but will make determinations on a case by case basis. We urge you to ensure that in each of these locations, equipment is left behind. We also urge you to work the local stakeholders in Ithaca and Oneida County to these towers operational in Fiscal Year 2013 until a long-term solution to the sequester can be developed.

We thank you for the opportunity to express the concerns of our constituents whose communities will be impacted by tower closures and for consideration of the request to retain tower equipment at these sites. If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to contact.

Dear Chairwoman Murray and Ranking Member Collins,

 

As you prioritize spending for the FY 2014 appropriations bill, I urge you to consider the significant safety implications of the proposed FAA tower closures and fully restore funding for the Federal Contract Tower Program. 

 

In my state, the contract towers at Griffiss International Airport and Ithaca Tompkins-Regional Airport are scheduled to close.  These airports are essential to their local economies, the economy of New York, and the quality of life enjoyed by local businesses, residents, and visitors.

 

The Griffiss tower is critical for our nation’s security and economy.  The Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, U.S. Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve have utilized Griffiss as a staging base for disaster relief operations and continue using it in their emergency response planning for the entire New England, New York City and Long Island region.  This airport directly improves the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Military, supporting their primary mission to ensure the safety and security of our nation. 

 

The Ithaca-Tompkins Airport is the only tower in New York State slated to close that runs full commercial service.  A reduction or loss of this service for the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport will have a significant adverse economic impact on the regional economy, where an estimated $1 billion each year is infused into the New York State economy by the 20,000 students of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3).  Together, Cornell, Ithaca College, and TC3 employ 11,500 people and generate $2.5 billion in annual economic activity.  However, Tompkins County is geographically isolated; it is not near an interstate highway or passenger rail system.  As a result, the Ithaca-Tompkins airport is of significant importance.  It is the primary means of mobility and access for faculty, students, researchers, entrepreneurs, customers, and investors. 

 

I urge you to provide stable and reliable funding in order to maintain air service critical to our aviation safety.  I look forward to working with you on this important issue. 

 

Thank you for your consideration.