WASHINGTON, D.C.—The FAA intends to send furlough notices to its employees, meaning in early April fewer controllers will be on the job unless Congress acts before that to make some changes to sequestration. The National Air Traffic Controller Association says it has been notified of this, adding that closing towers is “even worse.”
With the FAA threatening to close 189 control towers plus put another 60 on part time at night, a basic question remains unanswered: Will the controllers furloughed at the closed towers be assigned to other towers or would they be laid off? The towers to be closed are operated by private contract controllers, not the FAA. The FAA, however, says that such a transfer would be up to the contract holders.
Furloughs are expected to mean one or possibly two days off per pay period, which is every two weeks, for each affected employee. There are approximately 15,000 controllers, not including maintenance personnel.
Traffic might be reduced at airports by closing some runways. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, for instance, has two control towers. By closing one, operations on two runways would be stopped.
Whether or not the threatened delays in air traffic are needed is a question circulating around Capitol Hill. If the FAA is to operate like the Agricultural Department, the effort is to make the sequester budget cuts as painful as possible to gain public support for the president’s programs and create anger against the Republicans, according to insiders.
A leaked memo from Eastern Regional Director Charles Brown in the Raleigh, N.C., office of the Agriculture Department seems to tell regional workers that any money issues should not contradict the administration’s statements about the impact of sequestration. His memo quotes from higher authority: “We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the agriculture industry unless they provided funding to cover the costs. So it is our opinion that however you handle that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be’.”
A column in The Washington Times charges Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with a plan for the FAA that would inflict the most possible pain on the traveling public. It points out that the FAA has cost overruns on 15 of its 30 modernization programs amounting to more than $4 billion. “Before creating a false alarm regarding sequestration’s impact on aviation, the agency needs to sharpen its pencils and consider all its options.”