Starting this Sunday, almost all of the 47,000 workers at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will face unpaid furloughs as the reckless cuts forced by sequestration take hold. FAA workers will lose about one day per pay period until our elected leaders end this sequester nightmare.
Not only are FAA workers paying (literally) for the dysfunction of Washington, but now airline passengers and air carrier employees – and our economy – will pay a price as well.
Despite the fact that some politicians and pundits trivialize the effects of the sequester (I suspect they’re all reading from the same talking points), we know that 11 unpaid days over five months per worker is not just a bit of belt-tightening, it’s a disaster. Federal workers and their families will see their income go down through no fault of their own, and our entire transportation system will see the cascading effects on the safe movement of passengers and goods around the country.
As the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists have been warning for months, reduced staffing in an already strapped and aging air traffic system is a disaster. The sequester means fewer controllers, inspectors and maintenance experts, shuttered control towers and fewer available runways leading to delays and rising frustrations for airline passengers. Air carriers and their employees will also take a financial hit as the industry cancels flights.
Add in the Transportation Security Administration’s planned hiring freeze, and our entire aviation system will be defined by major flight delays, long security lines, a weakened industry and hundreds of thousands of really pissed off travelers. And by the way, these same travelers are also voters.
The math is pretty simple here. When you reduce flights per hour at major airports by as much as 40 percent, the impacts will be severe and they will ripple throughout airports of all sizes. Note to lawmakers: expect to be blamed for your constituents’ flight delays.
These cuts in capacity and their impacts on the integrity of our aviation system are real. What also is real is the impact on workers. As the Air Line Pilots Association has warned, the financial toll on our airlines could translate to job losses. And as the largest union representing federal workers — the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) — notes, the reality facing their families is a 20 percent pay cut.
The clock is ticking toward Sunday. President Obama and Congress must act now to avoid the furloughs and spare travelers of the wrath from the dysfunction of Washington.