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Could Sequestration Affect Your Attendees' Travel?

By Ernie Smith / Feb 27, 2013 (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)

One of the many predictions about the effects of pending sequestration is that it may cause long lines and delays when flying, due to cuts that would affect air traffic control towers. But is that really the case?

Could sequestration make travel a pain in the months to come?

Recently, federal officials have suggested that the automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect at the end of the week could make it difficult to keep air traffic control towers staffed—which could mean longer waits at the airport.

Here’s what you should know:

The official word: In recent days, federal officials have offered discouraging previews of the effects of forthcoming budget cuts. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted that the $600 million in cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration would lead to furloughs of 47,000 employees and delays of 90 minutes or more at major airports during peak travel hours. “Cuts to budgets mean preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, which could lead to more delays,” LaHood said during a White House press briefing last week. “And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”

The prospect of closing [air traffic control towers] is inconceivable given the very real impact it would have nationwide, and yet it appears to be a real possibility.

What an association executive says: On Monday, the U.S. Contract Tower Association, whose members would be affected by the cuts, argued that air traffic operations were too important to be the victim of wide-scale cuts. “The prospect of closing nearly 189 contract towers nationwide along with 49 FAA-staffed towers because of sequestration is inconceivable given the very real impact it would have nationwide, and yet it appears to be a real possibility,” the group’s executive director, J. Spencer Dickerson, argued. Despite this, he suggested that the federal government might be overhyping the issue. “There’s a lot of dramatics going on,” he told The Washington Post.

Should you be worried? Not right away, but perhaps down the line. If the sequestration takes effect, federal agencies would be required to give employees a one-month notice before cuts would take place, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. However, the cuts could eventually lead to furloughs of tens of thousands of federal employees, mass layoffs of contractors, and the closing of smaller control tower facilities during evening hours. And while the House Transportation Committee says it has found an alternative way to make the cuts without closures or layoffs, The Post’s Glenn Kessler argues that the House’s numbers don’t look at the wider context. “The FAA explanations have a ring of truth,” he writes. “Personnel costs are a large part of the FAA budget, and they have jumped significantly because of a new union contract—reached through arbitration in 2009—with controllers.”

In his fact-checking blog post, Kessler notes that, while the FAA makes a stronger argument, the House committee is seeking more data on how the agency plans to adjust its spending. So while it’s too soon to tell, there’s a chance the sequester could affect your travel.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now and a former newspaper guy. More »

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