Airline Delays May Spark Action On FAA Sequester Cuts

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Amid speculation as to whether a spike in airline delays concurrent with recent FAA furloughs have been created as a tool for political leverage or are an inevitable result of sequester cuts, the White House Wednesday hinted that changes may soon come to FAA spending restrictions. White House press secretary Jay Carney Wednesday told reporters that if Congress wants to address sequester-related problems specific to the FAA, the White House "would be open to looking at that." The FAA began furloughs of all employees Sunday. According to NATCA, the first three days of furloughs saw 5,800 flight delays versus 2,500 during the same period last year without furloughs. Now, some legislators are floating proposals that would allow the FAA special latitude in how it applies the required cuts.

The FAA says the cuts do not allow it the flexibility to switch money from accounts and apply cuts with discretion -- suggesting that controller positions may remain fully staffed at the expense of other FAA positions. Nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers are subjected to furlough, along with the FAA's roughly 32,000 other employees, as part of sequester cuts that require the agency to save $637 million. One solution proposed by legislators would allow the FAA to reallocate financial resources to allow for full employment for air traffic controllers, but it was not clear by late Wednesday whether such a measure would be brought to a vote before Congress begins a week-long vacation. And while the White House has suggested it may try to work with Congress to administer targeted action regarding negative effects of the sequester, Carney has said "that would be a Band-Aid measure."

Some congressional representatives Wednesday directed their displeasure with commercial air traffic delays at FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Huerta said both he and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had brought the matter to the attention of committees at least twice by late February but noted that media attention had fixated on the threat of tower closures. Meanwhile, Delta Airlines VP and General Counsel Richard Hirst said in a letter to the FAA that it has the discretion to decide where the cuts are made without Congressional intervention according to interpretations by two former solicitors general.