U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned yesterday that air traffic control across the country may be severely disrupted if the “sequester” goes into effect. Budget cuts may prompt the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down air traffic control towers at three Iowa airports as early as April.
CORRECTION: Closing the air traffic control towers would not necessarily shut down all traffic at the affected airports. On the other hand, “many corporations won’t fly into airports that don’t have an active tower.”
LaHood was the star of yesterday’s White House briefing for journalists.
LaHood said the sequestration cuts, part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, would result in furloughs for the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers. […]
“At [the Department of Transportation], we will need to cut nearly $1 billion, which will affect dozens of our programs,” he continued.
“Over $600 million of these cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that controls and manages our nation’s skies. As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year and, in some cases, it could be as many as two days.”
LaHood said the FAA has begun preparing airlines and unions about the possibility of furloughs for FAA workers. But he said the effects of the cutbacks would be felt most by airline passengers.
LaHood said members of Congress would likely receive complaints from frustrated passengers who are dealing with flight delays.
Lahood was a longtime Republican member of the U.S. House representing an Illinois district. I doubt he has any pull with current House Republican leaders or backbenchers, but if he is correct about FAA furloughs being “very painful for the flying public,” members of Congress will hear about it.
Any Iowans who travel by airplane may be affected by the FAA cuts, but especially those who rely on three of our state’s airports. Here is the FAA press release of February 22:
February 22- To prepare for the possibility of a budget sequestration on March 1, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is making plans to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013.
Among the changes we are considering are furloughing the vast majority of our 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period; closing over 100 air traffic control facilities; eliminating the overnight shift at over 60 facilities; and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment. All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions.
We will begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April. You can read more about this process in this letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta (PDF).
This pdf document lists all of the air traffic control facilities around the country that may be closed. Waterloo Tower, Dubuque Regional, and Sioux Gateway are near the bottom of page 2. No Iowa airport would be affected by eliminating overnight shifts for air traffic controllers.
Iowa’s first Congressional district contains both Waterloo and Dubuque. Representative Bruce Braley released this statement on February 22 (emphasis in original).
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today released the following statement after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the Waterloo, Dubuque, and Sioux City airport control towers could be closed as part of the agency’s efforts to cut $600 million from its fiscal year 2013 budget if Congress fails to avert so-called “sequestration” before next Friday, March 1st.
“This is just the latest example of the wide-ranging consequences of Congress failing to act to prevent sequestration. In this case, it’s not only a negative economic impact but an impact on public safety. It shows how reckless and irresponsible sequestration is, which is why I voted against it in the first place. Congress needs to put aside its ideological differences and work together to avert these dangerous cuts immediately.”
Earlier today, the FAA announced it could furlough tens of thousands of employees, eliminate overnight shifts at large airport control towers, and close control towers at smaller airports altogether if so-called “sequestration” is not avoided. More information on the FAA’s announcement can be found on their website, http://www.faa.gov/news/update…
Sioux City is part of the fourth Congressional district. I will update this post if I see any comment from Representative Steve King or from other Iowa elected officials.
I would not be surprised to see Congress approve legislation this week to stave off the “sequester” cuts for another month or two.