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.