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SF joins suit against FAA

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The city of Santa Fe is adding its name to the list of airport operators across the country that are suing the federal government over impending budget cuts to their control towers.

At its meeting Wednesday night, the Santa Fe City Council agreed to join national litigation against the Federal Aviation Administration.

Participating will give Santa Fe a “seat at the table in the fight for funding at airports,” City Attorney Geno Zamora said.

“When it comes to protecting the funding for small airport towers, there is power in numbers,” Zamora said.

It will cost the city around $3,200 to participate, according to Zamora.

Funding cutbacks for 149 smaller airport control towers, including the Santa Fe Municipal Airport’s tower, is set to take place in June under the so-called “sequestration” federal budget reductions. All the airport towers are operated by private contractors.

Airport operators in several states have filed lawsuits with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington

Santa Fe is joining a suit to stay the cuts pending further review by the FAA. The motion says, among other things, that the tower closures “will cause immediate safety hazards and environmental impacts on or near Petitioners’ airports that FAA failed to address in its decision.”

Santa Fe joins plaintiffs such as the Spokane Airport Board and city of Renton, both in Washington state, Ohio State University, which runs a small airport, the Boca Raton Airport Authority and the American Association of Airport Executives.

It’s still unclear how legislation passed by Congress on Friday to end air traffic controller furloughs that have caused delays at bigger airports around the country could affect Santa Fe. The bill allows the FAA, if it chooses, to shift some funding to the 149 towers slated for funding cuts. President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign the bill.

“As I understand it the guideline is to fix the furlough problem and if there’s anything left over they could potentially use that for the tower closures,” Santa Fe Airport Manager Jim Montman said.

“We have no indication whatsoever that it’s going to change anything, Montman said Friday afternoon. “But the House only voted on it a few hours ago so who knows what the FAA will do with the money.”

Montman added that even if the FAA distributes funding to the towers, he personally views the money as a “band-aid” that “kicks the can down to the end of the fiscal year” in September.

If the FAA makes the funding cuts, city officials will have to decide if they want to pick up the slack for Santa Fe’s airport tower. Officials have said the FAA pays a contractor around $720,000 annually to operate the tower.

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