The Obama administration last week tried to make the arcane, Washington Beltway battle over looming spending cuts a little more personal by running Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood before the cameras and the press corps at the White House to explain how air travelers will feel the pain.
On Friday, the federal government will begin to implement $85 billion in automatic, government-wide spending cuts for fiscal year 2013 that kick under a 2011 deal between Congress and the White House during another budget battle. Unless Congress votes on a more targeted approach the federal government faces almost $1 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years. The $85 billion cutback for this year is compressed into six months because the fiscal year ends at the end of September.
The Department of Transportation announced that the Federal Aviation Administration is making plans to reduce expenditures by $600 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. In April, the FAA will begin furloughing most of its 47,000 employees for about one day per pay period, closing more than 100 air traffic control facilities at smaller airports, eliminating the overnight shift at more than 60 facilities, and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment.
At the White House, LaHood said the moves would cause delays for travelers and cargo.
"Safety is our top priority, and in the course of implementing the operational changes described below, we reduce the operational efficiency of the national airspace in order to maintain the highest safety standards," LaHood and FAA Administration Michael Huerta said in a letter notifying aviation trade associations about the potential changes.
Flights to major cities could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because the FAA will have fewer air traffic controllers on duty, the letter said.
The reduced service may lead some airlines to change schedules or cancel flights, it added.
Furloughing safety employees will also slow down the time it takes for airlines, aviation manufactures and pilots to obtain safety approvals and certifications.
Boeing, for example, is rapidly trying to fix problems with lithium batteries that have grounded its new line of 787 aircraft and will require recertification of the batteries once a new housing that prevents a short-circuit from spreading passes internal tests.
Overall, the DOT expects to cut almost $1 billion.
Republicans have accused the administration of highlighting certain cutbacks to scare the public, saying savings could be found in other areas with less direct impact on daily services. - Eric Kulisch