The Federal Aviation Administration has announced that in order to prepare for the possibility of a budget sequestration, it is making plans to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013.
A news release from the FAA dated Feb. 22 says: “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.”
“Facilities Where Overnight Shifts Could be Eliminated,” is also listed. Collin County Regional is NOT on that list, but six Texas airport towers are listed: Abilene, Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth Meacham and Lubbock. This means these airports would no longer have midnight shifts.
These cuts and more are in a letter co-authored by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
According to the letter, the furloughs would affect all employees, including all management and non-management employees working within the Air Traffic Organization, and would extend to the end of the fiscal year ending in September.
The airports that could be affected are ones that have fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year. Collin County Regional Airport had 83,374 flight operations reported in fiscal year 2011-12. It presently has no commercial operations.
According to Collin County Airport Director Ken Wiegand, along with safety concerns, local objection to the tower’s closure is a fairness issue.
“FAA is responsible for aviation safety, yet is chose to cut funding for 238 Air Traffic Control towers across the country. 189 are funded under the Federal Contract Tower program and 49 are FAA staffed towers. Towers like ours make up more than 79% of all closures", Wiegand said.
The letter also says that travelers should expect delays as a result of fewer employees and fewer airports. The delays could reach up to 90 minutes in major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
If the plan moves forward it is expected to take affect April 1, the FAA says it will begin furloughs and start facility shutdowns in April. You can read more about this process in the letter from LaHood and Huerta.
A recent Department of Transportation Inspector General report on the contract tower program (Nov. 5, 2012) makes it clear that contract towers enhance aviation safety at smaller airports in a highly cost-effective manner to taxpayers that otherwise would not have a tower. When contract towers are closed because of sequestration, many local communities will lose the significant safety benefits of air traffic control services.
The nation’s 251 FAA contract towers, which handle 28 percent of tower operations in the U.S., work with FAA-staffed air traffic facilities as part of a unified national air traffic control system and serve a wide variety of aviation users.
The U.S. Contract Tower Association released a fact sheet for affected airports and others to use in pressing for action to prevent tower closures that can be viewed here.