The Port Arthur News
Things are up in the air at Jack Brooks Regional Airport while officials wait to see how automatic federal spending cuts that take effect next week would impact the air traffic control center.
Alex Rupp, airport manager, said air traffic controllers could be subject to mandatory furlough days as soon as April 1, but that should not affect service at the airport.
Should the air traffic control center be closed, pilots would communicate with the Houston air traffic control tower, which is what they do when Jack Brooks’ tower is closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Rupp said.
The airport should have a clearer picture of the budget cuts’ effects next week, he said.
Federal officials say air traffic control centers at 25 smaller Texas airports could close or see hours reduced if automatic federal spending cuts take effect next week.
Travelers should expect delays when the cutbacks begin in April, the officials say.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that the reductions are part of its plan to cope with a spending reduction of $600 million during the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.
The FAA said it is considering furloughing most of its 47,000 employees for one day every two weeks — in effect, a 10 percent reduction in staffing — and closing more than 100 air traffic control centers, including 19 in Texas. Overnight shifts could be eliminated at more than 60 additional airports, including six in Texas.
The largest airports, such as Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, are not on FAA’s list of potential closures or cutbacks.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA chief Michael Huerta said Friday in a letter to aviation industry trade groups that the agency “may reduce the efficiency of the national airspace in order to maintain the highest safety standards.”
Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because there will be fewer controllers on staff, they said.
Airlines are likely to cancel some flights if they expect problems, similar to the way that they reduce flights during bad weather to avoid overloading a weakened air-travel system.
Automatic federal spending cuts are scheduled to take effect next Friday if Congress and President Barack Obama can’t agree on future government spending, although the deadline could be pushed back, as it was at the end of 2012. Government rules require giving workers 30 days’ notice of furloughs, which can’t start until March 1, so the slowdowns would be expected to hit in April.
On Thursday, airline industry officials tried to sound optimistic that political leaders will reach a deal.
“We fully expect and urge the Congress and the president to ensure that the air transportation system is not negatively impacted” by automatic spending cuts, said Dan Elwell, senior vice president for safety and operations at Airlines for America, a trade group representing the biggest U.S. airlines.
The Texas air traffic control facilities that could be closed, according to an FAA list: Waco Regional, New Braunfels Municipal, Jack Brooks Regional (Beaumont), Brownsville-South Padre Island International, Easterwood Field (College Station), TSTC (Waco), Lone Star Executive (Houston), Fort Worth Spinks, East Texas Regional (Longview), Arlington Municipal, Grand Prairie Municipal, Georgetown Municipal, San Marcos Municipal, Dallas Executive, Sugar Land Regional, Stinson Municipal (San Antonio), Collin County Regional (McKinney), Tyler Pounds Regional and Victoria Regional.
The Texas facilities that could see overnight shifts eliminated: Abilene control tower, Austin tower, Corpus Christi tower, El Paso tower, Meacham tower (Fort Worth), Lubbock tower.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.