(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the sequestration cuts would be devastating to the country’s aviation industry.

“FAA officials have told us that furloughs and tower closures are necessary to achieve the cuts mandated by the law," he told the audience at a luncheon sponsored by the Aero Club of Washington. “We want the Congress and the public to understand that these furloughs and tower closures will potentially have extremely negative effects on our nation's air traffic control system and economy.”

Earlier in the day, NATCA released a report that outlined the impact sequestration could have on its members, business and the traveling public. In one example, the report said furloughs could force Atlanta to close one runway, which would reduce its hourly arrival rate during clear weather to 96 arrivals per hour from 126 arrivals per hour.

Rinaldi said NATCA is doing what it can to ease anxiety among its more than 20,000 members who could lose as much at 20 percent of their pay because of mandatory furloughs.

The sequester “would significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the system. Our entire nation will suffer as a result. We can’t let this happen.”