Air-traffic controllers union warns of layoffs if ‘fiscal cliff’ isn’t avoided


An air traffic controller works in a terminal radar approach control room Monday, April 18, 2011 at the Atlanta TRACON in Peachtree City, Ga. (David Goldman/AP)

More than 1 in 10 of the air-traffic controllers who direct 70,000 flights each day could be laid off, leading to flight delays and higher ticket prices, unless Congress resolves the current fiscal crisis, their union said Wednesday.

The warning by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association adds another voice to the chorus of federal workers and businesspeople urging lawmakers to resolve the stalemate before across-the-board budget cuts take effect automatically.

“It is our role to warn the rest of the country that these cuts will be detrimental to our National Airspace System and the economy,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “We urge Congress to act to prevent the sequester before it’s too late.”

NATCA said that if the Federal Aviation Administration has to absorb the mandated 8.2 percent funding reduction next year, it could result in 2,000 to 2,200 of the 15,200 controllers being laid off.

Michael Huerta, FAA’s acting administrator, addressed fears about the effect of sequestration in a September speech to aviation industry representatives.

“If the sequester were to occur, we would face some very drastic cuts in services and these investments,” he said. “They would result in significantly less efficient and less convenient air travel service for the American traveling public.”

In a report detailing the likely effect of budget cuts, the union said Wednesday that the FAA had informally suggested that it would seek to minimize the impact with rolling furloughs.

“But regardless of how the cuts are implemented, controllers and other aviation professionals will be working fewer hours. A loss of controller hours would inevitably lead to reduction in services and fewer flights in the air,” the report said.

NATCA said there also would be flight delays and higher costs for airlines, an expense it said was likely to be passed on to passengers in the form of higher ticket prices.

The report also highlighted a concern that has been expressed by FAA officials, airlines and aviation supply companies: that budget cuts could disrupt the fragile and complex progress in replacing the nation’s air traffic control system with an almost $40 billion innovation known as NextGen.

“Reduced spending for NextGen research, planning and construction would not only delay essential modernization, but would also reduce valuable research investments critical to the U.S. economy,” NATCA’s report said.

“The U.S. has the safest and most efficient airspace in the world, and the FAA needs appropriate funding to continue directing it,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “If Congress allows sequestration to become a reality, the aviation community and the economy will take a major hit. We cannot afford to let that happen.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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