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RELEASE: Flightless Fridays – Option B to Closing Airports Due to Congressional Sequestration Antics

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Contact: Katie Peters
Phone: 202.741.6285
Email: kpeters@americanprogress.org

Read the analysis.

Washington, D.C. —  Today, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly released a column responding to criticisms of his “Oops, I Lost the Airport” report on the consequences of a looming 9 percent budget cut at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Released last Wednesday Lilly’s report examined how the Federal Aviation Administration might cope with the 9 percent across-the-board cut required by the so-called sequestration provision passed by Congress a year ago. The report suggested that over 100 U.S. airports could lose air traffic control service—and effectively be shut down—under the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect January 2, 2013.

In news stories across the nation, airport managers pushed back against the report’s conclusion:

  • Rick Piccolo, who runs the Sarasota Bradenton Airport, told The Bradenton Herald that the report was “alarmist” and said, "I’d be very surprised if they closed the airport and did away with air traffic control. This is one person’s belief of what could happen. It is just one possibility of a million possibilities depending on what happens.”
     
  • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport Director Barry Centini told The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader that he found the report, “Incredulous. I don’t see it happening.”
     
  • James Loomis at the Lubbock, Texas airport was even less kind. Interviewed on KCBD-TV he said, "People who write stuff like this try to push. They’re pushing their agenda when they’re doing this. That’s what this scare tactic is all about. We’re not going to lose air service in Lubbock, Texas.”

Nevertheless, in his column released today, Lilly, a former director of the House Appropriations Committee, points out that the airport managers who expressed reactions of anger and disbelief are all represented by the American Association of Airport Executives, which seems to have an entirely different take on the problem.

Yesterday, Todd Hauptli, the senior executive vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives told The Scranton Times-Tribune, "The FAA has four buckets of money: the airport improvement program, the facilities and equipment account, the research and engineering development account and the operations account… only the operations account – which funds all employee salaries – contains enough funds to make a difference, if such a budget reduction was deemed necessary…No one knows what is going to happen, but Scott Lilly’s proposal is absolutely a possibility."

Scott Lilly’s original analysis of how the FAA might proceed in the face of sequester cuts was more of a warning than a proposal and in his column today he points out that there are other approaches. For example, instead of closing the hundred smallest airports, the FAA could reduce flights nationwide and preserve service at all existing airports. Between January 2 and September 30 of next year, the period in which the reduction at FAA and other agencies must occur, there are 272 days. If you shut down the entire system for 33 days you could furlough all controllers that would have worked on each of those days and achieve the required savings. If you shut airports one day each week, say Friday, for 33 of the 39 weeks in that time period you would have brought spending down to the levels mandated in the new law.

Eliminating the 70,000 flights that would have otherwise taken place on each of those 33 days would force about 66 million passengers to seek other arrangements. Airports and passenger planes would be packed to overflowing on the days before and after a closed day. Parts needed for repairs or “just-in-time” manufacturing would be delayed. Literally hundreds of thousands of business meetings would be cancelled.

“What still seems to be missing in this story is a realization by some airport managers and the flying public that just because something is absurd doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, particularly given the events in the nation’s capital over the past year,” writes Lilly. “Any Congress that would push the nation to within hours of insolvency as this Congress did last summer is capable of anything. Currently there is no sign of movement on this issue what so ever.”

Lilly continues to explain that if Congress fails, the FAA may be able find a somewhat less destructive alternative than either of the two scenarios. But even so, the consequences of failure will still be very painful. No matter how you cut it, a 9 percent, or $1.35 billion, cut in the FAA budget is a lot of money. If you stacked $100 bills on top of each other you would need a pile more than 4,000 feet high, or 8 times the height of the Washington Monument to replace a cut of that size. No matter how such a cut is levied it will heavily impact aviation in this country and people who want to avoid such a cut need to get to work rather than continue believing that their little piece of the universe is too important to be impacted by the budget impasse in Washington.

Read the reports:

· Oops, I Lost the Airport: Automatic Federal Budget Cuts Will Wreak Havoc in the Skies

· Oops, It’s Flightless Fridays: Option B to Closing Airports Due to Congressional Sequestration Antics

To arrange an interview with Scott Lilly, please contact Katie Peters at 202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

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