The end of the semester won’t be here for a few more weeks, but if you’re one of the many who are planning on going home via plane, it would behoove you to know how your travel plans will be affected by the sequester.
Last Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it would shut down 149 of the 516 air traffic control towers across the U.S. beginning on April 7, 2013, with the closures phased in over four weeks.
The FAA is doing this because of the automatic cuts triggered by the sequester mandated cuts of $85.4 billion from the federal budget this year, with the FAA’s share weighing in at $637 million.
In a press release, the FAA said it originally proposed to close 189 of these towers, but narrowed it down to 149 because closing 189, “would have a negative impact on the national interest” while closing 149 apparently won’t have a negative impact on the national interest. The towers that are set to be closed are located near smaller regional airports. Here’s the full list.
“Even if there was a good way to do this,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi said in a statement, “the mandated budget cuts under sequestration have forced the FAA to prioritize its decision based on expediency rather than safety and efficiency.”
The closures won’t force the shutdown of any airports, but pilots will now often be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves with no help from ground controllers. The FAA says that all pilots are trained to carry out these procedures.
In addition to the closures, most of the FAA’s approximately 47,000 employees will be placed on furlough beginning in April, taking one unpaid day off every two weeks.
Critics of the cuts say closing the towers will eliminate one layer of safety—the extra set of eyes in the tower—while contributing to the workload at other FAA towers which will already be increased because of the furloughs.
The FAA said it will manage cuts by reducing volume, not reducing safety. Michael Huerta, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration said in a speech on Friday that “Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco could experience delays up to 90 minutes during peak hours. This is because we will have fewer controllers on staff, and there will be limited flexibility in shifting or reassigning controllers to other duties. Delays in those major airports will ripple across the country.”