Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand Announce Ithaca-Tompkins & Griffiss Int’l Airport Contract Towers Stay Open – After Senators’ Push, DOT Has Now Guaranteed Contract Towers to Remain Operational

May 10, 2013

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the federal government will use the funds appropriated by Congress last month to avoid the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cuts to keep open the air traffic control towers at the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport and Griffiss Int’l Airport, which are critical to the local communities, businesses and economic growth. Last week, Schumer and Gillibrand wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Huerta to urge that they use the funds and flexibility provided by Congress towards reversing plans to close the towers at Ithaca-Tompkins and Griffiss International Airport on June 15, 2013; these were the only airport contract towers set for closure in the state.    

The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 passed by Congress last month authorizes the FAA to spend $253 million to avoid the delays and closures that were set to hit due to the sequester and provides the level of flexibility needed to avoid contract tower closures. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand noted that the appropriation was more than enough to both cancel furloughs and prevent tower closures, and subsequently the DOT made the official decision to keep Ithaca-Tompkins and Griffiss Int’l Airport towers open.

“We can finally rest-assured that there will be clear skies in Ithaca and Rome. I am pleased the DOT has heeded our call and that we have secured a guarantee from the feds that they will use the funding to keep these towers open. The contract towers at Ithaca-Tompkins and Griffiss International were simply too important to their regions’ economies and security to shut down,” said Senator Schumer.

“This is clearly the right decision and I am pleased to see the FAA coming through,” Senator Gillibrand said. “For our economy to grow, and to keep our communities safe and secure, Ithaca-Tompkins and Griffis International must be open and fully operational. I am pleased we can continue to rely on their service.”

The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 allows the DOT to transfer $253 million from its Airport Improvement Program to operations, to keep air traffic controllers on the job and prevent unnecessary travel delays. The appropriation is more than enough funding to reverse all the controller’s furloughs and keep the 149 contract towers operating. Although the legislation does not mandate how the DOT spends the appropriation, the amount of funding left over after completely cancelling the furloughs is enough to keep the contract towers program running. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand pushed for a confirmation from the DOT that these contract towers would receive this funding, which they received today.

Previous to passage of the legislation, the sequester mandated the FAA automatically cut $637 million from their operations this year. To adhere to these cuts, they were cutting approximately $50 million from the Federal Contract Tower Program. The Administration had planned 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 previously 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 would have had 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. 

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, including 9-11, 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.