Is the Sequestration Impact on Aviation Operations Real or Induced?

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ARTICLE: Spending cuts could force busy airports to operate fewer runways, FAA chief tells Congress

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Administrator Huerta testified before the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee about Sequestration’s impact on the FAA generally, but focusing on the Air Traffic Control system. He stated that the towers and center personnel, about 15,000 employees are likely to be furloughed resulting in the closure of over 100 lower activity towers and possibly even some of the major runways at airports like O’Hare. He asserted that these consequences are mandated by the language of the Sequestration Statute which specified, according to OMB, that the reductions be applied equally across the board and without any fund transfers between and among accounts. The dire consequences as articulated by the Administrator suggested marginalization of safety.

Two questions are stimulated by the hearing:

    1. The Congress wrote to the FAA, according to the Republican leadership, to ask what the impact of the Fiscal Cliff would be. If this specific safety implication was flagged then, is it not possible that the language would have been amended if the safety flag was waved? As mentioned in an earlier post here, aviation safety should not be used as a Washington Monument tactic.
    2. Furlough may be the only way for the FAA to manage its way through Sequestration, but the massive impacts on the system capacity to be inflicted by a 10-20% reduction in full time equivalents (FTEs) seems very high. History shows that when 13,000 controllers out of a 17,500 population quit in 1981, a 74% reduction in the workforce, the initial schedules were set at 50% of the pre-strike levels. Gradually, the number of operations was increased. The FAA management PREPARED for this possibility by requalifying management to return to the ATC positions. Airlines moved their flights away from heavily impacted facilities and to underutilized airports. The point is that in 1981, the FAA and industry were allowed to work the problem. The Administration (the Administrator) has not made the impacts known until days before the legislative deadline, in spite of the numerous requests for information. Is the trauma real or induced? Could the impact be mitigated by earlier planning and/or joint management as in 1981? Or is the absence of impact analysis causing added consequences?
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