NATCA, FAA outline sequestration impact

A US controllers union has issued a 14-page report detailing the worst affected hubs if automatic budget cuts – termed sequestration – go ahead as planned on March 1.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association warns that Atlanta could close one runway, reducing the number of arrivals during clear weather from 126 to 96, while Chicago and Houston could both lose more than a third of their flights by using two runways rather than three.

“Taken together, these reductions will add up to a national airspace facing significant delays throughout the system,” the report said.

Similar spending cuts projected each year for the next decade could, the union warns, means controllers retire from some of the busiest areas of the country in New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago at a faster rate than new trainees can replace them.

Just over 100 out of 376 controllers in New York could retire January 1, 2014. In Atlanta, 125 out of 475 controllers could retire. In Chicago, 140 out of 432 controllers could retire.

“These numbers are staggering, especially given the fact that it takes three years to train a new hire to work in such complex airspace,” the report said.

In testimony to the House of Representatives aviation subcommittee FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that unlike a government shutdown, under the sequester, almost all employees would be affected, even essential personnel.

“The vast majority of our employees, including “essential workers” would have to be furloughed,” Huerta said.

“Under sequestration our flexibility is very limited because we must cut proportionately from all affected accounts. We can’t move money around and we have limited flexibility to choose what it is that we’re able to cut.

“Now a very large portion of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) budget is exempt from the sequester. What this means is that the FAA will take more than 60 per cent of the sequester cuts for all of the DOT, even though our agency makes up only about 20 per cent of the department’s budget. Now, within the FAA, the airport grant programme also is exempt from the sequester. So this again limits the choices we have on where to cut the money.

“Finally, we have a very short time frame to make the bulk of these massive cuts – about six months. And that means the cuts would need to be deeper to have the same effect as if we could spread them out.

“It is my hope, and the hope of everyone at the Department of Transportation that our leaders can work together to rally around the improvements that we need for our nation’s air transportation system. We hope that we can continue to support the programmes that we’ve all acknowledged were so important just one year ago.”

 

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