The Federal Aviation Administration's director told U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer last week that Jefferson City officials must convince the FAA that Memorial Airport is important to the "national interest" to be removed from the list of airports targeted to lose federal money next month for control tower operations.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta's March 15 letter to Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, repeated information originally given to airport operators in a March 5 letter.
"The FAA is unable to consider local community impact that does not affect the national interest," Huerta wrote. "Negative impact is the only criterion the FAA will use for deciding whether to continue services to an airport that falls below the activity threshold."
The federal government's budget sequester is at the root of the exchange of letters.
The sequester went into effect March 1, so the FAA must cut more than $600 million in expenses by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
Part of its budget-cutting plan is ending federal funding for 189 airport control towers around the country where the controllers are contracted employees, like Jefferson City, and another 49 towers the FAA operates directly.
Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph told Huerta, in a March 12 letter, that the airport's operations do include the national interest.
"First, Jefferson City Memorial Airport serves the capital city of Missouri, making the airport the most efficient method of transportation for the Governor, legislators and other state leaders," Struemph wrote. "In addition to state business, the work and duties required by these officials often affects the national interest.
"The airport also serves four National Guard units that have a combined total of 90 personnel."
The mayor also told Huerta that "the State Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri Highway Patrol, both headquartered in Jefferson City, utilize the Jefferson City Memorial Airport for assignments that involve coordination with federal agencies and certainly impacts the national interest."
With 30,553 flights last year, Memorial Airport is the state's sixth busiest, Struemph wrote, "and the busiest Missouri airport on the list of towers to be closed.
"The high level of traffic also means that our airport's superior safety record could be diminished if air traffic is only controlled by pilot-to-pilot communication."
Luetkemeyer's new district includes Jefferson City, and the congressman wrote Huerta and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week, urging them to grant the city's appeal of the announced closing.
But Huerta told Luetkemeyer that Memorial Airport doesn't have enough traffic to keep it off the list of 238 proposed tower closings.
"All towers on the list had fewer than 150,000 total operations and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations in Fiscal Year 2012," he wrote. "I will continue to call on Congress to address sequestration and adequately fund the FAA's programs.
"It is my hope that our leaders can work together to resolve this issue so we can continue to provide the important services and improvements that our aviation system needs to continue as an economic engine for the nation."