Sequester Squeeze Would Alter Aviation
FlyersRights Briefs DOT
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
A monitor at LAX shows air traffic in the United States, one dot per plane. Airline and airport officials fear one result of a sharp cut in federal spending could be flight delays and cancellations.
J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times.
Maybe you haven’t been paying much attention to the automatic 
government spending cuts that may go into effect next week, known as sequestration.
It’s a lot to take in, as those cuts will be across-the-board and would be a problem for a wide variety of government agencies, including the FAA.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is painting a bleak picture for air travel in the future.
Reuters reports that during a press conference Friday urging congressional lawmakers to delay the cuts, LaHood spoke of flight delays and cancellations, shuttered control towers and swarms of angry travelers if sequestration happens.
“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours,” he told reporters at the White House. “Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country.”
The New York Times  explains why this would happen, citing LaHood’s statement to Congress. Generally, that the FAA’s 47,000 employees would have to take a day of furlough every two-week pay period, which amounts to about 10% fewer workers a day.
Airport officials fear a return of lines like these, at San Francisco’s airport in 2006.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
That means fewer air traffic
 controllers on every shift, which means officials would be forced to accept fewer airplanes into the system just like during bad weather.
When the weather is spotty, airplanes take off in a 10- to 20 mile gap instead of six- to seven-mile gaps, which translate to passengers sitting on tarmacs longer, delays hitting all the airlines and a lot of angry passengers.
And then there’s the fun of going through security – TSA would also face cuts and subsequent furloughs, which again, means fewer workers on the job. Add in extra time for passengers deplaning from international flights because of fewer Customs & Border Control workers and we can see why LaHood is projecting such a dismal atmosphere at airports.
Mostly, the furloughs wouldn’t begin right away as 30-day notices can’t be sent until March 1, but the agencies could curtail the work of contractors and part-time employees.
 If you didn’t care about sequestration before, odds are you might now.

 

The impacts of sequestration will be serious. If sequestration is not averted, the FAA will be required to cut $483 million, or five percent of its budget. Because these cuts must be across the board, FAA employees could face furloughs, including for air traffic controllers and other safety professionals. This will have a negative impact on the efficiency and capacity of the National Airspace System
, as well as the nation’s fragile economy.
Travelers and users of the National Airspace System, from commercial passengers to businesses of all sizes to the military, will feel the impact of the cuts throughout the spring and summer. Reduced airport and air traffic control services will ultimately result in fewer flights and increased delays, creating a ripple effect that will negatively impact all sectors of the aviation industry, as well as local communities and their economies. In addition, diminishing the capacity of the national airspace system through personnel reductions could reduce the number of flights that can be in the air at any given time. That in turn could mean fewer options and higher prices for the traveling public.
Air traffic controllers are accustomed to performing under pressure and they will rise to this challenge if confronted with it. But these kinds of indiscriminate cuts will not help improve the efficiency of the world’s safest air space. They will only diminish it at a time when we can least afford it. Our national airspace system is built on the concept of necessary redundancy. When funds and personnel are cut, layers of redundancy will be eliminated, which slowly reduces layers of safety.
FlyersRights Meets With DOT
FlyersRights President, Paul Hudson, and board members Ed Mierzwinski and Kendall Creighton met with Department of Transportation executives in Washington last week.
The goal was to promote accountability, open government policies and make DOT public officials more accountable to passengers for what they do in the regulatory arena.
In light of the leadership transition at DOT, FlyersRights wants options to inform the new Secretary in making policy choices.
On the agenda were several items, such as enforcement of passenger compensation for excessive flight delays, cancellations and tarmac confinements over three hours. 
Federal funding for an airline passenger hotline and other services provided by nonprofit groups and consumer advocate compensation was reviewed.
Also discussed was the elimination of unconscionable terms, legalese or weasel words used in an airline’s contract of carriage to negate airline liability for passenger breach of contract claims  
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