Washington Report: sequestration and the FAA

The long-running debate about reducing the US debt has made the word “sequestration” a household term. This series of automatic spending cuts is scheduled to kick in on March 1 if the President and Congress do not act to prevent it. Until recently, sequestration was assumed to be a “gun to the head” of politicians, in place only to make them act. But Republicans are starting to argue that allowing sequestration to take effect may actually be the best policy.

Michael Huerta
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says sequestration will affect ATC.

If that happens, the Pentagon and the Department of Transportation will be hit especially hard. This week, FAA administrator Michael Huerta sent a letter that outlines some of the ways his agency will be impacted:

If sequestration occurs on March 1, a majority of FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees would need to be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September, with a maximum of two days per pay period.

Huerta says such a large number of furloughs means Air Traffic Control is not excluded, and that could have an impact on service:

The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers, technicians, and aviation safety employees would require a reduction in FAA services to levels that can be safely managed by remaining staff.  Accordingly, we might see travel delays and disruptions during the critical summer travel season.

Beyond the obvious ATC disruptions, certification processes could be delayed. This will be a tough pill to swallow for many avionics and airframe manufacturers, who already complain about how slow the agency is to approve new products:

The furloughs would also impact airlines, aviation manufacturers and individual pilots who need FAA safety approvals and certifications.  While the agency will continue to address identified safety risks, a slowed certification and approval process due to furloughs could negatively affect all segments of the aviation industry as well as those who travel by air. Long-term investments in advanced technologies and new tools may be postponed and the delivery of some critical NextGen systems could be delayed for years to come.

Some of this is undoubtedly a worst case scenario and is probably being used as a negotiating tool. But with the latest “fiscal cliff” becoming more and more likely, it’s worth considering just what the impact may be.

22 Comments

  • I think the FAA could close about half the control towers and nobody would notice. We need towers at airports such as LAX, SAC, and so forth but many of the towered airports I fly into such as Medford Oregon, Redding Ca, Chico Ca, look like they would get along fine with see and avoid. Remember when the controller fell asleep? The plane landed with no problem. Of course the answer was hire a second controller to keep the other one awake, instead they might have asked: do we really need to staff this tower? Do we actually need two DUATS providers? Have you been to a FSDO lately? Maybe they wouldn’t be so arrogant if there were less people there and a higher workload. The FAA has some dedicated people and they provide some vital services but there is plenty of fat to be trimmed.

    Vern Fueston

    • Totally Agree. Make the cuts. Local controllers here asking GA pilots to request “the option” to get more landing counts so can justify tower… absurd.. I love flying but America has to make some changes. we are rolling down a hill like a snowball headed..

      • Not to mention the salaries these controllers at slow airports are making in relation to workload. It’s a gravy job. If the general public knew how much they made, and how little they do, there would be an outrage. But people think they’re absolutely vital to safety, without understanding what controllers do (or don’t do).

  • This is so typical of the way any government agency reacts when it is planned to cut their expenditures. No thought is given to cutting non essential stuff- it’s always the good stuff that will be cut! Certainly, there will be no cuts in the total number of drones nor the highly paid honchos. If a town budget is threatened with cuts it will always be the police and schools which will be marked for cuts. The public will have to get used to ignoring this hogwash if we are ever to get control of our national, state, and city budgets.(All of which have run wild).

  • This outcry about “sequestration” is taking on the proportions of an Armageddon. This is simply alarmist and is engineered to get the populace (that’s us) to beg our lawmakers to stop this in it’s tracks. Please listen: There aren’t any spending cuts from the actual outlays. These are cuts in the rate of growth and, they are spread out over 10 years. I wish they were cutting $500 billion or so out of next year’s spending but, they aren’t. with a spending rate of +$3 Trillion (thats right, with a T) a $100 Billion a year is PEANUTS. Let’s get a grip here folks. Do not stampede for the exits, we need to get our spending in line with revenues. BTW best solution is complete reform of the Tax Code which I am afraid current politicians are loath to do

  • A 3 percent cut is a joke in private industry. We were expected to cut costs or increase productivity 5 – 10 percent every year. We need some industry folks in government to trim the fat.

  • I disagree with all of the above. While most everyone (me included) agrees that there’s fat to be cut, and that cutting it wouldn’t hurt anything, there’s little agreement on what’s “fat” and what’s “bone.”

    I fly into and out of Van Nuys, Santa Monica, and other GA airports along the California coast, and while they’re not as busy as LAX, I wouldn’t want to fly into or out of any of them, without having controllers in their towers.

    The tone of voice in all of the postings above makes me think that if those postings included examples of “fat” their authors think could be cut, I wouldn’t agree that any of those things are fat. I’d cut the staff salaries of all Tea Party members of Congress; to me, that’s “fat” we can do without. But I’ll bet that all of the above would disagree with me there.

    • Van Nuys used to have 20 airplanes in the pattern without any tower. Now it takes a tower to guide 5. Learn some airmanship.

      The endless towering of everything is cancer that’s eating our airspace.

      • The real cancer is the countless pilots that have lost that airmanship and now have to have control towers to be safe. I for one am glad they are here. and the smaller airport with the contract towers are by far the best.

    • You need to get out of SoCal and come to the rural midwest. There are towers where controllers work (maybe) 2 airplanes an hour and make $75k a year. Often in communities where the median household income is $35k.

      Glorified welfare at it’s finest. And something the average taxpayer isn’t aware of.

      • 2 airplanes an hour certainly is different from what goes on here in SoCal. At Santa Monica and Van Nuys, we often have 3 planes in the pattern at one time, during the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, it’s more than that. And the mix often includes everything from business jets to C172s and LSAs. I’ve read that the tower at Van Nuys will stay open, but Santa Monica’s may not. The rural Midwest sounds like a very pleasant place to fly, when the weather is nice. Right now, at 4:45 pm, it’s 56 degrees in Santa Monica and 57 in Van Nuys, and it feels uncomfortably “cold” to me. How would those temps feel for you? [:-)

  • Bureaucracy always reacts to cuts by holding essential functions hostage while preserving the bulk of the bureaucracy. So in case of FAA, the ATC and certifications are going to get a hit out of all proportion with the scale of the “cuts” (which are not even cuts).

    Another thing is that FAA has the power to _create_ an essential function. For example, there was absolutely no evidence of S-LSAs being unsafe, overall. And in case of Zenith 601 the joint action of the company, ASTM, and FAA — within the existing framework — was quite sufficient to resolve the issue. Nonetheless, because some paperwork was not filed to form somewhere, FAA wants closer scrutiny. Now nobody can ship airplanes without FAA without FAA involvement. This action has absolutely no effect on safety, but adds workload at FAA. Voila, need to hire more inspectors, more budget! And if “cut” happens, nobody can ship any airplanes, which they could shipped just fine, with no injury to consumers, just because FAA said so. And anyone who disagrees is AGAINST DA SAFETI, MAN.

    Same story happens in CAMI, too. It used to be that anyone who had a pulse could get 3rd class. Now – not so fast. Anything minute is forwarded to OK City, where it creates the busywork. And cutting the budget will delay certifications — of course.

  • I know this is childish, but if they are to cut ATC services and cause travel delays and disruptions, that they start with Washington National. 😉

  • I know of and have flown in many airports where Cubs coexist with A320’s without a control tower. We could do away with half of the existing towers, some of which are staffed 24/7 with negligible traffic on the 10:00 pm to 6:00 am shift. We could do away with 3rd class medicals for recreational pilots (pilots who do not want to fly IFR or at night). I’m sure there are many many more examples where the FAA provides a “service” that no one needs.

    • I’m just curious, specifically which many towerless airports have you flown where Cubs coexist with Airbuses? I’ve flown at a number where they might coexist, but none that are non-towered.

  • Amazing !!!!

    I read today the FAA is being required to absorb 60% of the DOT budget cuts.

    What’s up with that ????

  • Regarding sequestration-induced closure of the 200 or so control towers so dolefully predicted by the FAA, that would be just fine by me. The list of possible closures for our state did not include any airports that have enough traffic volume or complexity to justify control towers. Probably there are some exceptions, based on a preponderance of jet traffic or training activity, but I doubt it. I’d be happy to see the money spent on those towers reassigned to better and more timely support of such administrative work as field approvals!

    I share the view that across federal agencies, their grim statements are intended to scare the public into protesting any cuts, and to make the political opposition look terrible.

  • Friend Hunter sez, ” … I share the view that across federal agencies, their grim statements are intended to scare the public into protesting any cuts, and to make the political opposition look terrible.”

    Chief Sitting Bull, I believe it was, who observed that, “No one has ever accused the American government of telling the truth.”

    Now, that’s a subtle blade in between the 4th and 5th ribs, and deadly accurate, too.

  • I am shocked — really — at the anti-government sentiment being expressed here, by those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to afford to fly and who do so safely in part because of the real help the FAA affords us. Historically, it is a fact that the predecessor of the FAA was created in the first place to supplant regulation by state and local governments. People who aren’t pilots or plane owners think that the FAA is a captured agency — captured by us, pilots and plane owners. They’d be surprised to learn that some pilots and plane owners consider the FAA to be an adversary.

    It’s also interesting to observe that every one of us has a different idea about what expenses the federal government could cut, and even different opinions about which parts of the DOT and FAA budgets can be safely cut. I have my opinions, like the rest of you, but even I don’t think that agency budgeting can be done by majority vote of the citizenry, and I’d be shocked if even one of us contributing to this thread thought that budgeting could be done by our votes.

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