Last month, we talked about sequestration as things were just getting started. In the last few weeks, we have seen some new stories develop as well as some details come into the light. As promised, we have continued to monitor these stories and here is what we have found.
As a quick overview, the $85 billion in automatic cuts went into effect last month. This reduced the FAA’s budget by more than $620 million between the beginning of March and the end of September. The general feeling across those in the General Aviation community is that the cuts have disproportionately hit General Aviation. Even celebrities have weighed in on the situation.
The most pressing issue is that of the controllers. The FAA is going to have to close up to 238 air traffic control towers due in large part to sequester cuts. Originally, these cuts were to take place on April 7th. Some of the controversy has been around exactly which towers are getting the ax. As the LA Times pointed out, the majority of these towers (195 or the 238, about 82%) are contract towers. J. Spencer Dickerson noted that these control towers have a record of success and safety as well as being a more efficient and cost effective method to have towers staffed. AOPA’s president Craig Fuller noted that contract towers handle about 28% of all air traffic control tower operations in the United States but are only 14% of the FAA’s tower operations budget. Due in large part to this controversy, the FAA has decided delay the closure of 149 federal contract towers until June 15th.
This is one example of how many members of the general aviation community feel like they are getting an unequal burden of the cut. Fuller went further in noting that the closures, in conjunction with the proposed $100/flight user fee and longer tax depreciation schedules for business aircraft, would lead to a decrease in overall General Aviation activity. Fuller stated, as we did a couple months ago in our article, Business Aviation, Good for Business?, that this would have dire consequences for communities where the local airport is a significant piece of the economy.
Safety has been another concern with all these towers due to be closed. Though the FAA has stated that this will not be an issue, it has been hard for those in the community to see how that can be possible. Hollywood actor Harrison Ford told a newspaper, “accidents are going to happen” with all the tower closures. Pilots, without the control towers, would be forced to coordinate all takeoffs and landings on their own. With this being the case, it would only take one individual’s mistake to cause an accident.
The debate will continue to rage on in Washington. Hopefully we will be able to get you a full list of towers that will close completely as well as ones that will close at night. We will continue to monitor the stories as new information comes out and look at how things like furloughs are impacting our community. If you find a story that is particularly relevant, let us know.