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February 28, 2013

Sequester Could Cause Flight Delays, Furloughs and Closures, FAA Administrator Warns

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Michael P. Huerta, administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration.

People traveling to New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience 90-minute flight delays if the sequester (automatic cuts to the government’s budget) goes into effect Friday, said Michael P. Huerta, administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Delays in those major airports will ripple across the country,” Huerta warned Wednesday at an _ conference sponsored by the Forum on Air and Space Law in Washington, D.C.

In addition to delays, Huerta said the budget cuts would hurt the FAA’s ability to conduct preventive maintenance and quick repairs of air traffic equipment. Huerta said if Congress passes an alternative debt-reduction strategy, it would deter blanket cuts.

The FAA seeks to cut $627 million for this fiscal year if the sequester is allowed to proceed. For the majority of the administration’s nearly 47,000 employees, it would include a one-day furlough each pay period until the federal fiscal year ends in September.

“This is not an action we take lightly, and we are looking at all options to reduce costs, including contracts and nonoperational expenses,” Huerta said. “But given the magnitude of the reductions we face, it does not appear possible to avoid these furloughs.”

Related video: FAA Administrator Warns of Grim Outlook for FAA if Sequestered

The FAA is considering cuts such as the elimination of midnight shifts at more than 60 air traffic control towers and the closures of airports in Hilton Head, S.C., and San Marcos, Texas. They are part of the 230 air traffic control towers that operate fewer than 150,000 flight operations a year.

“Our aviation safety inspectors would have to focus their attention on the most pressing priorities and would devote their time to overseeing current activities to ensure continued safety,” Huerta said. “They would not be in a position to take on a lot of new projects.”

Huerta stressed that safety is the FAA’s top priority and that this priority will guide budget cuts.

“The reality is, what we’re looking at is a series of bad choices,” Huerta said. “What we’re trying to do is minimize the impact on the maximum number of travelers.”