Air Traffic Controllers Enter Fiscal Cliff Debate

NATC says suggested cuts would impact travelers

By Phil Rogers
|  Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012  |  Updated 3:44 PM CDT
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Fiscal Cliff Talks Continue

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Group warns 2,200 air traffic controllers could be furloughed if cuts occur.

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The nation's air traffic controllers are raising the spectre of chaos in America's skies, if Congress and the President fail in their negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said deep cuts mandated by sequestration legislation, would impact travelers, general aviation pilots, businesses, even the military.

"It is our role to warn the rest of the country that these cuts will be detrimental to our National Airspace System and the economy," NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in a statement. "We urge Congress to act to avert the sequester before it's too late."

A NATCA report warns that cutting the FAA budget by the mandated 8.2 percent could result in furloughing up to 2,200 air traffic controllers, roughly 12 percent of the workforce.

"This would inevitably lead to a reduction services, reduced capacity, and fewer flights," the statement said.

"If Congress allows sequestration to become a reality, the aviation community and the economy will take a major hit," said NATCA Vice-President Trish Gilbert. "We cannot afford to let that happen."

The report states some airport control towers would likely have to be closed if the budget cuts go into effect, with smaller airports the most likely targets. Even large airports would experience delays due to longer ground holds.

The FAA would not comment on the union's dire predictions. But in a recent speech, Acting Administrator Michael Huerta sounded similar themes.

"If the sequester were to occur, we would face some very drastic cuts in services," Huerta said. "These cuts would impact air traffic control services, NextGen implementation, and aircraft certification, all of which are critical to our ability to move forward with aviation in this century."

Huerta said no matter what happens, "we will always maintain the highest levels of safety."

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