WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a Congressional subcommittee Wednesday, Feb. 27, the agency has put in a hiring freeze, cut travel and is preparing for furloughs of employees as sequestration appears certain to become effective March 1.
Cuts in spending under sequestration take the FAA back to its level of spending in 2010, a reduction which Republican members of the subcommittee say should not be too difficult to meet. The FAA accounts for more than 60% of the Department of Transportation’s total budget. More than 85% of the FAA’s 47,000 employees are in field locations and the agency is looking facility by facility to see where cuts will be made, Huerta said.
Both small and metropolitan airports will be affected, Huerta told committee members. Airports with less than 150,000 operations annually or 10,000 commercial operations are considered for tower closures. Metropolitan areas may face partial closures. As an example, Huerta cited Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where there are two towers. Night operations might be reduced there, eliminating operations at one tower on two runways.
Huerta was also asked to consider cargo service as decisions are made to curtail service. Most cargo flights operate overnight and if service is curtailed, deliveries of goods could be curtailed, particularly if weather conditions require services of on-site personnel.
Representatives from two states urged the administrator to keep general aviation in mind as closing towers is considered. Rep. Nick J. Rahal II (D-W.Va.) told the administrator how important general aviation is to his state and urged him to keep the facilities operating. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) made a similar plea, declaring the value of these GA airports to his state.
Several members of the Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee were less than supportive of Huerta’s concerns about cutting expenses. Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) commented that his state had cut expenses, has a balanced budget, fewer employees, and operates more efficiently. He said ways could certainly be found to cut $16 billion out of a budget of $627 billion.
Another member of the subcommittee reminded the administrator that members of Congress will also have to curtail expenses, perhaps furloughing or terminating members of their staffs.
Although the announced purpose of the hearing was to examine how the FAA was operating after passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 after going five years on multiple short-term extensions, most of the questions and discussion centered on the pending sequestration.
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