Sequestration’s effects on general aviation

Any sequestration that goes into effect won’t be felt entirely until April 1 because furlough notices must be given one month in advance. Will sequestration last that long? Or longer? Few even hazard guesses at this time, but if it does, what will be the effect on general aviation?

The Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. It was to reduce the massive and growing deficit in two ways: First by establishing binding caps on discretionary spending over the next 10 years and, second, establishing a bipartisan Joint Committee. The binding caps were to reduce the deficit by almost $1 trillion over the next 10 years. The Joint Congressional Committee was to develop a proposal to achieve at least a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction. However, the Joint Committee failed to reach agreement.

If the committee failed to reach agreement, sequestration was in the Budget Control Act as a means of encouraging it to agree to make the deficit cuts with the majority of the cuts coming from discretionary programs. Sequestration was proposed by President Obama, believing it would be so repugnant that Congress and his supporters would cooperate and pursue a balanced deficit reduction.

Failure of the Joint Committee called for sequestration to go into effect Jan. 2 of this year but it was delayed two months by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. This delay was paid for by splitting $24 billion in deficit reductions evenly between spending cuts and revenue increases. That brought it to March 1 when — if no action is taken — sequestration starts with beginning furlough announcements and other cuts to take effect, split evenly between defense and non-defense budgets.

If the Congress does not act, sequestration of about $85 billion will be imposed for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. Although this is a small percentage of the total federal spending, it poses specific actions. Nothing is exempt and money cannot be taken from one account and used on another.

With FY 2013 almost half over, the 5% cut in the FAA’s budget actually means a 10% cut to finish out the year. This would mean less money for employees, products, contracts, travel, service, repair and every other item in the budget. Employees would not be relieved of their jobs, but required to take at least one day absence without pay almost every eight days.

Trying to work out reductions with the least amount of disruption will not be an easy task. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said if there is no agreement, the FAA will be forced to cut approximately $627 million in the remaining fiscal year. Although attempts would be made to not furlough employees, he sees furloughs of employees and reductions in services as necessary. FAA has approximately 47,000 employees. Most would get one furloughed day, and possibly two, with no pay each pay period.

Paul Rinaldi, president of National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says sequestration will “significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the National Airspace System.” He warns furloughing critical FAA personnel but closing certain air traffic control towers means the system will be even more compromised than anticipated. Once towers are closed, airports they serve may be next, he says. Delays will be much longer that anticipated.

These actions will have an impact far beyond inconveniencing travelers, he said. Local economies will be diminished, military exercises cancelled and jobs lost. He adds there is no telling how long these effects will be felt and when or if these service cuts will be reversed. There are 249 airports with contract towers. These serve primarily general aviation. Last year there were reports that the program had been targeted for cuts.

Airshows will be hit in several ways. First, FAA personnel probably will not be available for work involved in making preparations and running an airshow and second, any Air Force participation will be restricted. This may cause many airshows to be cancelled, stopping a way for the armed forces to make good contact with civilians. The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) explains that the Defense Department, as well as other federal agencies, will be forced to make dramatic cuts to non-essential spending.

Certification of general aviation aircraft, products, and programs would feel the pinch as furloughed days prevent FAA personnel from doing work which, even now, is often considered by many to be unduly slow.

Licenses and upgrades for pilots and all other FAA certified individuals may be delayed and backed up in issuances.

Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), says that association is “deeply concerned that the FAA’s planned $600 million in sequestration cuts will compromise aviation safety and severely damage the efficiency of general aviation flights nationally.” Declaring the AOPA has made aviation safety a top priority since founding in 1939, Fuller says he is “astounded that our elected leaders have put air safety in jeopardy.”

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) will be further delayed. Details are difficult to come by, but some estimates have included a $160 million bite out of NextGen funding.

“This is a very difficult time as Congress works to reduce the deficit,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.

How will general aviation will meet these challenges?

“We don’t know,” says Ed Bolen, president of National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), “we have never been through something like this.”

He adds it will create significant challenges, but the industry has found significant ways to adjust in the past.


  1. George Andre says

    I am heavily involved in two GA airports. One is getting millions in FAA funding to install LED runway lights which will only save a few hundred dollars in electric bills. Makes no sense. the other airport is a privately owned airport and is getting partial FAA funding to repave areas between the hangars. Why should Joe Taxpayer subsidize improvements at a private airport? Meanwhile, I have attended FAA school to become a DAR but the local FSDO will not use my services because they do not see a need, which only means they are overstaffed. Cutting the FAA budget is the best thing to come along for a long time.

  2. Greg W says

    I agree, so what if the budget does not grow, and if a tower is closed we can just deal with it. Use the flight computer behind your eyes and between the ears, it uses windows(the clear thing in the front of the aircraft) and will work quite well. Just stick to standard procedures,fly the patern and we will all stay safe. I fly into a non-towered aircarrier airport and have no trouble mixing with the airliners, the corprate types that love the 10 mile straight in are the problem not the lack of a tower. The growing costs and regulations must be stopped or none of us will fly any where.

  3. ManyDecadeGA says

    Sequestration could be the best thing that has happened to FAA and for GA in decades. NextGen is a complete mess, and needs fundamentally rethought. Useless towers and FSSs need to be closed. LPV, with its unnecessary and obsolete straight-in angular criteria wastes critical airspace, instead of just using RNP (the new global ICAO standard). WAAS is a complete total $4B waste, now with 30+ GPSs, FMSs, RNP, low cost inertial components, and now 30 Galileos even coming on line,… and the FAA waste just goes on. It would be different if perhaps even the ADAP money was actually improving GA airports, but it isn’t. In critical cases, FAA criteria is actually making airports LESS SAFE and LESS FUNCTIONAL, as seen in recent ill-advised changes in ATS criteria for handling of opposite flows, and policies or construction at both Arlington (KAWO) and Auburn (S50) airports. Let’s hope sequestration also hits hard at FAA Headquarters, where Hqs Divisions like AFS-400 need to be seriously trimmed. The prior organizations to AFS-400 worked 1000% better, back when they had 8 employees (as AFS-210), back in the 1970s, than they do now as AFS-400, with nearly 80 poorly informed employees, with most including their leader, as having little or no operational or serious flight technical experience. GO SEQUESTRATION !!! ….at least as far as FAA is concerned.

  4. Michael Elliott says

    I know of several smaller airports with control towers where operations have declined significantly over the last decade. It wouldn’t hurt to close many of these. It is past due time that we tighten our collective belts and simply make it happen, not just with the FAA, but in ALL government agencies. And I too am getting so fed up with the scare tactics and fear mongering on the nightly news. The fact that our politicians are making such a big deal out of this is even more reason to cut, cut, cut! Government spending is beyond “out of control.” Where do we start? Everywhere! Will it hurt? Yes, but it will hurt far, far more if we don’t swallow this bitter pill and just get on with it.

  5. AK John says

    Whenever push comes to shove, people tend to exaggerate in order to bolster their positions. I’m skeptical of these cuts actually producing a high level of service disruptions. The real issue is that these people in congress can not and will not perform their duties. They should be required to produce a balanced budget within a specified timeframe. Finger pointing and political posturing is not a good way to run the country.

  6. Dean Wadsworth says

    Chcken Little said; “The Sky is Falling – The Sky is Falling”. You wound think the federal budget was being cut in HALF if you believe all the lies this President is saying will happen with this 2% reduction. Wake up!

  7. Bruce Huddleston says

    The article contains some mis-information about airshows. As an Air Boss for several shows each year, the FAA does not “run” an air show. The FAA Inspector In Charge (IIC) monitors the activities of the “Responsible Person” to ensure that the show is run within the guidelines and meets the Special Provisions of the Air Show Waiver. While we are happy to have the FAA monitor our shows it is not necessary that they be present. I have worked several shows that did not have an IIC and they were run as safely as if the IIC were present. I would expect that there will be more shows done without FAA monitoring this year. It is true that several shows have cancelled this year in anticipation of losing a jet team act if sequestration is carried out. Most of these have been shows at military bases. Many more civilian shows will be impacted by reduced or non-existent military static display aircraft. Some of those might choose to cancel as military static displays are a big crowd draw.

  8. Mark Garfield says

    This sequestration “play book” is getting old, just like the politicians behind it ! This is really just a small cut in the amount of budget increase that is going take place. Let it play out, and you’ll see who the politician really care about. FYI….it’s not your tribe, unless you contribute significantly to DC politics. Very unfortunate, but is there really any way to stop the runaway spending? If we buy into this joke that Washington has made it, we will continue to have smothering taxes and the aviation industry (all industry) will continue to flounder, only accessable to a very few. Too many skilled jobs have been moved off-shore, how will higher taxes, poor schools, and unsklled labor bring any of this back to the US?

  9. Ron Bullock says

    Regarding the sequester, as a pilot and business aviator, I was particularly struck by Secretary LaHood’s remarks last Friday as he rolled out his part of the administration’s “Washington Monument” chicken little strategy. The sad part is that he is willing to sacrifice the safety of the flying public in an overt political move.

    Let’s do the math. $1 Billion in sequester cuts is 1.34% of the FY2013 DoT budget, which reflects a 2% increase over FY2012. The only substantial cuts in the current year budget was to the FAA, down 5%, or $730 million already, while increasing spending in surface transportation on highways and high speed rail. So, using the approved fear-mongering strategy, Secretary LaHood proposes another $600 million in FAA cuts (60%), which has the highest number of employees – with many in ATC and Tower operations directly involved in a mission to protect the skies and make them safe. This administration continues it’s war on business aviation and the economy with the sole purpose of scoring political points.

  10. says

    C’mon guys. The sky will not fall. Some of us may remember the PATCO strike, when 11000+ controllers out of some 14000 walked out. I was flying daily then and everything worked just fine. Sure we had to adapt and improvise. If, you can’t do that you shouldn’t be flying airplanes.

  11. Greg S says

    The sequestration will result in no cuts over last year. It will result in only a cut in the rate of growth of the budget. I call BS on all of these administration doomsayers. I can’t imagine that every single geographical office of every single department of every single administrative subdivision can’t live with what they had last year, or even, God forbid, a 2% cut in their annual budget. I will guarantee you that my family’s annual budget has fallen over the last 4 years, not grown by 16%. Get real!

  12. Buford Suffridge says

    My second sentence left out the word “not” and should have read: Like everyone else not opposed to run-away spending,…………………. Sorry about that.

  13. says

    I agree with Buford Suffridge! Everyone agrees that the Federal spending is out of control, but no one wants their programs cut. Take it away from the other guy. There is so much waste in all government programs that could do away with the debt with out effecting the core programs if we (and the politicians) had the back bone to force it to be done. Of the contract towers that I have flown into recently, most of thes airports are virtually deserted. Here in FL, Flagler, New Symerna Beach, Leesburg, Bartow are just a few that were non towered for years with NO safety problems, then just because the money supposedly was there they padded the operations numbers to qualify for a tower. Fortunately through the efforts of Sky Dive Deland and other concerned people at DED, the tower was voted down by the city council.

  14. Buford Suffridge says

    Bulloney!! Like everyone else opposed to run-away spending, this article attempts to paint a picture of armageddon. Without going into all the details, sequestration will only take us back to spending levels equal or a bit above when Obama took office. No one wants a red copper cent gored from their bull but this run-away spending has to stop and everyone has to participate (I certainly won’t make as much money this year after all the tax increases and hidden fines for everything under the sun are imposed). Remember when Reagan fired all the ATC employees when they went on strike? According to the pundits it was going to shut down aviation in this country. Didn’t happen.

    • Derek Ebdon says

      Let’s face it. The real issue isn’t discretionary spending at all. Until growth of the “non-discretionary” component of the federal budget is brought under control and aligned with revenue, we will continue to see large annual deficits and growth of the national debt.

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