Pryor Seeks To Improve Aviation Service in Arkansas

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved critical updates to improve our nation’s aviation system, including two measures championed by Senator Mark Pryor that will benefit air service in Arkansas.

Pryor said the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2009 includes his provision to keep open the air traffic control tower in Little Rock instead of allowing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to consolidate its services in Memphis, Tenn. In 2000, the FAA spent more than $30 million to upgrade the Little Rock Air Traffic Control Tower, which is responsible for directing all incoming and outgoing aircraft after they reach a point about 50 miles from the airport, including C-130 training missions.

Specifically, the measure requires the FAA to first conduct a needs assessment, which would include a public comment period and published final criteria for consolidation. It requires an additional study by the proposed Air Traffic Control Modernization Board on the FAA Administrator’s recommendations and directs it to then provide independent recommendations to the President and Congress.

“We must be smart when it comes to air safety. The employees at the Little Rock Air Traffic Control Tower provide a critical safety service to pilots, passengers and the Little Rock Air Force Base. Employees in Memphis just aren’t as familiar with the airport and surrounding terrain and airspace,” Pryor said. “As a result of this provision, the FAA will have to provide extensive justification for moving forward with its consolidation plan. I’m not convinced it’s possible.”

A second provision would strengthen the Essential Air Service (EAS) program that benefits rural airports, including Hot Springs, Harrison, Jonesboro, El Dorado and Texarkana. To encourage air carriers to provide service in about 125 small, rural communities, the federal government provides a subsidy. The air carrier receives its full subsidy even if the plane is not full of passengers. Pryor’s measure requires air carriers who bid for EAS contracts with the FAA to submit a marketing plan on how it plans to attract customers. The Senator believes this approach will increase passenger boarding and make the EAS program more successful.

“Access to air transportation is just as important for rural communities as it is for big cities. The EAS program makes it possible and can be credited, in part, for maintaining and attracting economic development opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked,” Pryor said. “I want to make sure this program stays viable, which means airlines must do their part as well to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent.”

Pryor’s provisions, included as part of the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2009, were originally accepted during committee debate of similar legislation in 2007, which reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and modernizes the nation’s air traffic control system. The 2007 legislation was never considered by the full Senate, but paved the way for today’s action. The legislation must now be approved by the full Senate.