The automatic budget cuts set to take effect March 1 will likely mean significant flight delays for travelers across the country. Forced spending reductions at the Federal Aviation Administration could lead to closures of air traffic control towers, furloughs of federal workers, and slower maintenance and safety response times.
The Department of Transportation will lose $1 billion, $600 million of which will come from the FAA, due to the sequester, leading to the possible closure of more than 100 regional and municipal airports that will not be able to pay their air traffic controllers, the agency warned last week. Meanwhile, most of the FAA’s 47,000 workers will face one- or two-day furloughs each pay period, putting a burden on safety officials, maintenance staffs, and airports that could delay flights by 90 minutes or more, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said:
“[Safety] is our top priority and we will never allow [more than] the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays,” LaHood said. “Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff,” which would ripple across the country.
Cuts also mean preventive maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, leading to more delays, he said.
“And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights,” the outgoing transportation chief said. “So we are beginning today discussions with our unions to likely close more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.”
Without its workers on the job, the FAA will likely be unable to manage the current volume of air travel, as the Center for American Progress’ Scott Lilly detailed in August, leading to delays that will make the airport yet another place where Americans will feel the effects of sequestration.