The FAA may close more than 100 air traffic control towers and eliminate the graveyard shift in another 60 if sequestration goes ahead on March 1. It is also considering cutting maintenance and upkeep of air traffic control equipment, cutting staff in certification and inspection roles and furloughing most employees for one or two days per pay period, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a letter (PDF) to 47,000 FAA employees Friday. The effect will be decreased capacity and major disruptions to flight schedules, certification programs and a myriad other things that require FAA sign-off. "We are aware that these service reductions will adversely affect commercial, corporate and general aviation operators," LaHood said. Some analysts have dismissed the proposals as political scare tactics in advance of a week of political wrangling over sequestration.
Perhaps the most significant proposal is the threat to close 100 (of about 500) air traffic control towers. Any airport with fewer than 150,000 operations a year or 10,000 "commercial" operations would be closed. The criteria for elimination of the graveyard shift were not spelled out nor was the precise meaning of the term "commercial." LaHood says safety will be the top priority in implementation of cuts and the tradeoff will be widespread delays and inconvenience. For instance, it's expected the cuts will result in flight delays of about 90 minutes at major airports and LaHood said airlines will likely cut flights to adjust to the reduced service levels. Cuts would be finalized in March and implemented in April. They would be in effect until the end of the FAA's fiscal year on Sept. 30.