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Sequestration Will Bog Down Air Travel, FAA Warns

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
February 22, 2013
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Washington, DC – Air travel will continue in the event Congress and the Obama administration are unable to dodge the so-called sequestration next month, but the Department of Transportation warned of ripple effects including routine delays at major airline hubs.

Reduced staffing nationwide will result in closures of smaller air-traffic control facilities and smaller teams on duty at major airports, which will likely result in delays of up to 90 minutes for flights heading into major airports, said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in a February 22 letter to a group of airline and airport industry associations.

“As a consequence of employee furloughs and prolonged equipment outages resulting from lower parts inventories and fewer technicians, travelers should expect delays,” the letter read. “Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff.”

The letter also stated it was assumed some airlines would “change their schedules and cancel flights” due to the reduced air-traffic capacity.

There has been a recent flurry of media speculation that the dire warnings about the consequences of sequestration were a scare tactic cooked up to pressure Congress into accepting a potentially bad budget deal before the March 1 deadline. But LaHood and Huard told the airline industry its plans called for the majority of FAA employees to take one day off per week without pay beginning in April.

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) this week warned of upcoming stresses for travelers, including longer lines for customs inspections and airport security screening, and urged Congress to indeed do something by the end of the month to avoid a sequestration nightmare. The USTA called on travelers to “send a strong message” to Washington to prod lawmakers into taking prompt action.

“The 2 million Americans who fly each day…are counting on our elected officials to deliver results that keep our nation competitive and attractive to travelers from around the globe,” said Roger Dow, USTA president and CEO.

Reach Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org

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