Congress Members Slam Proposed 5-Hour Closures at Spokane, Boise Airports

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- A proposal to close air traffic-control towers at the Spokane and Boise airports for five hours a day to save money has been slammed by five Northwest members of the U.S. House and Senate.

In a letter to Federal Aviation Administration Commissioner Marion Blakely, they said the cost-cutting plan to close Spokane International and Boise International airports from midnight to 5 a.m. would harm commerce and national security.

The letter, released Thursday, was signed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash.; Idaho Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo; and Rep. C.L. ''Butch'' Otter, R-Idaho.

''As members of Congress from Idaho and Washington, we represent two states that share a common border and a tremendous amount of commerce; our constituents utilize these strategic transportation and distribution facilities with no regard to jurisdiction,'' they wrote.

''They also depend on the allocation of appropriate federal resources to ensure safe and dependable access to the National Air Transporation System.''

Blakely's office will make the final determination on the recommendation from the FAA's Western Terminal Service Office. A call to Blakely's office after business hours Thursday was not answered.

In a news release, Cantwell called the proposal ill-advised. She said it would severely hamper air ambulance services and emergency jet landings, and remove an important asset for Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane.

''Meeting homeland security and airplane safety challenges is not a part-time job; it requires a full-time commitment,'' Cantwell said. ''We need to be prepared 24 hours a day to safely mobilize and land our military planes and not jeopardize the safety of air travelers.''

Because of its all-weather instrument landing system, the Spokane airport receives flights at all hours of the night that have been redirected from Seattle and Portland. Boise often fulfills the same weather diversion role for Salt Lake-bound flights, the letter said.

The government disclosed earlier this year that it was considering allowing some airports to go dark for five hours after midnight. There are 48 airports _ including those at Boise and Spokane _ that handle few commercial or cargo flights during those hours, and the FAA said it was looking to adjust staffing to meet demand.

The air traffic controllers' union said the move would compromise safety.

The Bush administration has proposed a lean FAA budget in 2006 _ a year when the agency plans to hire and train about 1,200 air traffic controllers.