[As posted by Ed Wytkind in the National Journal]
The budget cuts being imposed on the FAA for the remainder of the year, and the cascading effects the reckless sequester will have on air travel, are hardly akin to trimming a little fat.
So let’s stop calling the sequestration a 2.5 percent “belt-tightening” for the FAA. These cuts are squeezed into seven months (rather than 12), a situation the Office of Management and Budget equates to a 9 percent budget cut for non-defense agencies. That’s real money being taken from an agency that in the best of times has large initiatives to complete while facing staffing shortages and a deteriorating funding mechanism.
The sequester occurs at a time when our economy is still in recovery mode and we should be funding programs that will put people to work expanding airport capacity and designing, manufacturing and implementing a next generation (Next-Gen) air traffic control system. But Washington is busy playing political games and is barely paying for routine maintenance of antiquated systems.
We are preparing to close towers because we can’t pay to staff them. Pilots who need to be certified will be grounded if there is no one to approve them. And suppliers and contractors of many components will sit idle. Make no mistake, these “short-term” budget cuts will have a long-lasting negative impact.
About those furloughs. FAA employees are already receiving furlough notices, a situation already intolerable, but the real impact of sequestration is yet to come. As our colleagues at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists note, we will see reduced capacity in an already strapped air traffic system. This means fewer controllers and inspectors, shuttered control towers, fewer available runways leading to flight delays, and rising frustrations for airline passengers. And this before we add a Transportation Security Administration hiring freeze that will reduce the number of security officers. The result will be a substantial squeeze on the billions of dollars the aviation industry pumps into our economy.
Note to politicians: you may want to avoid voter town hall meetings in and around airport hub cities because the delays could get extremely ugly. The only thing uglier than angry voters are angry voters stuck in massive flight delays caused by politicians.
As the FAA and TSA are asked oh so politely by lawmakers to cinch their belts just as fliers stand in longer security lines with theirs off, let’s stop minimizing the impact of these funding cuts on our national airspace system. Let’s stop brushing off the impact on the men and women who operate, maintain and work in it. So when we pick arbitrary levels of dollars to cut like we are handing Monopoly money to the banker, remember this sequester will choke our already capacity-strained aviation system, stall much needed aviation modernization projects, and cut good jobs and salaries.
This is hardly just belt-tightening.