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It is well known that last year’s Budget Control Act requires devastating cuts to the defense budget beginning ten months from now. It is less evident that these cuts would also cripple a number of non-defense programs including FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that non-defense agencies would suffer an immediate 7.8 percent budget cut from sequestration. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ estimate comes in even higher at 9.1 percent. For FAA, this means a potential loss of $1 billion or more. FAA – the agency responsible for monitoring and safely guiding 85,000 aircraft each day through our nation’s skies – has never faced a budget cut of this magnitude.
Two-thirds of FAA’s budget is allocated to operating expenses – most of which pays the salaries of air traffic controllers, safety inspectors and other federal employees whose skills are required each day to ensure safe flights of aircraft through U.S. airspace. The House Appropriations Committee’s Democratic staff estimated that sequestration would cause the layoff of 1,200 air traffic controllers, the closure of almost 250 airport control towers and the loss of 600 safety inspectors and certification staff.
The FAA is one of a handful of federal agencies providing a “business-type” service directly to the U.S. economy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If FAA employees do not report to work, aircraft cannot fly and design improvements will not be approved. Employee furloughs and layoffs like these would require lengthy consultation and the exercise of “bumping” rights.
It is unlikely that senior officials will allow a nationwide layoff of air traffic controllers that will have a large negative impact on our economy. An option the agency could exercise to prevent this from happening is the “transfer authority” provided in its annual appropriations bills that could be used to modify sequestration’s across-the-board cuts.
Because the NextGen portfolio provides state-of-the-art capabilities, it will be hit the hardest. AIA believes that as a result of sequestration, NextGen could lose 30-50 percent of its funding, not the 8 percent many believe. To protect the operating accounts, FAA can apply disproportionate reductions against its procurement and research programs.
Forcing today’s air travelers to choose between today’s flight and tomorrow’s safety and efficiency is a poor choice. The shock wave of sequestration will rattle windows far beyond the Pentagon’s walls, shaking our vital domestic programs and technologies to their core.
AIA Source: Rich.efford[at]aia-aerospace.org