With Fresh Sequestration Danger, FAA Furloughs on the Table Again

As Congress grapples once again with a set of automatic cuts to the federal budget, one place where the average person might feel it the most is at the airport. The FAA is considering furloughing its employees to make needed cuts, and associations in the airline industry have raised fresh concerns.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: With concern growing over looming sequestration cuts, one of the places they could hurt most is at the airport.

With Federal Aviation Administration furloughs being considered once again, the issues of the spring could resurface in the fall and winter. While the FAA faces smaller cuts than other agencies due to a number of exemptions, the automatic, across-the-board cuts, part of a 2011 deal over raising the debt limit, are significant. Budgets must be reduced by 7.3 percent by October 1.

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Where we currently stand: Last spring, the possibility of employee furloughs at the FAA as a result of mandatory spending cuts threatened to cause problems for the airline industry due to fewer air traffic controllers and delays for travelers, who also were expected to endure long lines. (In fact, when the cuts actually hit, delays were reported.) But not long after the furloughs took effect, the Senate and House quickly worked out a solution—earning praise from associations for the quick action, though some raised questions about the selective approach to solving the sequestration issue as well as the decision to make up for the shortfall by using funds set aside for infrastructure. (That’s something that the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International-North America continue to raise concerns about.)

Another round of cuts: In October, a new round of cuts are set to hit with the start of the federal government’s fiscal year, and they could hurt even more this time around, according to a Bloomberg report, which notes that nonessential staff travel and training already have been cut. With labor being the biggest cost for the agency, the FAA is considering furloughs as a key option this time around. And as was the case in the spring, cuts to contract towers are being looked at again. Legislation to prevent a situation similar to what happened in the spring is moving along: House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced a bill last week that would allow current funding levels for the federal government to stand until December 15. However, the bill, which the House passed Friday, faces a tough road from here, because it strips funding from the Affordable Care Act—an almost certain no-go proposal for the Senate and the White House.

Associations react: Airline and pilot groups, including Airlines for America (A4A), the Regional Airline Association (RAA), and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), have expressed concern about the FAA furloughs to Bloomberg, pushing for the groups to minimize such cuts—particularly in regard to where it would affect air traffic controllers. “We expect that Congress and the White House will ensure that the traveling and shipping public are not impacted by sequester, as they were in April, and believe that air-traffic controllers, who are front-line safety professionals should not face furloughs,” A4A spokeswoman Victoria Day told the news service.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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