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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Huerta: Air Traffic Controllers Will Be Furloughed Under Sequestration

Woodrow Bellamy III

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told the House Subcommittee on Aviation on Wednesday his agency cannot avoid furloughing its employees under its $600 million in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect this week. Additionally, Huerta said the cuts could result in delays and cancellations at the nation's busiest airports.

The hearing occurred two days before the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration are set to occur, and just a few days after several lawmakers requested details from FAA to justify the recent claims by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the spending cuts could close more than 100 air traffic control towers across the nation leading to travel delays of up to 90 minutes at some of the nation’s major airports.

“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff,” said Huerta. “We also expect that, as airlines estimate the potential impacts of these furloughs, they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”

According to House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), FAA’s air traffic organization budget is $7.4 billion, and would be reduced by $30 million per month for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 under the sequester cuts. Lawmakers at the hearing said the agency should be able to “shift money around” and avoid furloughing employees.

Huerta said FAA was still looking at where it can find savings, but the provisions of the automatic cuts gives them limited flexibility to shift the reductions because each operating account must be reduced proportionally.

“I find it hard to believe that you can’t find $30 million in savings per month, out of a pot of $7.4 billion,” Shuster said.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with members of Congress on Friday to discuss the automatic spending cuts.

Related: House, Senate Committees Request Details on FAA's Sequester Plans 

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