If you’ve flown over the last few days, especially through JFK, LAX or another major airport, you might have noticed that things aren’t running as smoothly as they could. You’re not alone in noticing this. Air travelers suffered through long delays starting on Monday as the sequester-imposed furloughs (being put on involuntary leave) kicked in.
Brendan Buck, Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, was quick to blame Obama, tweeting, “No one likes sequestration, but FAA is ignoring authority it has and making it as painful as possible for air travelers #obamaflightdelays.”
However, the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) today warned that “the operation of the USA’s National Airspace System is being put in danger by compulsory furloughing of Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control staff. The furloughs are taking place as part of federal ‘sequestration’ cost-cutting, despite the long-standing recognition that air traffic control cannot arbitrarily lose staff at times of high traffic.”
Speaking from the IFATCA (International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations) conference in Indonesia, ITF general secretary David Cockroft said, “This is not a labor dispute – it’s an unprecedented measure that should be gravely worrying to everyone in the aviation community. The removal of staff, especially at peak traffic flow periods means that it’s not just punctuality and efficiency being put at risk here, but, potentially, safety too.”
He continued, “The ITF strongly urges that these furloughs be halted. The hazards of any other course of action could be just too great.”
The FAA is required to cut $600 million from its 2013 budget, which they say forces them to cut “essential employees” (it’s hard to imagine how drastic, sudden cuts wouldn’t impact delays).
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) believes that the cross-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration will be detrimental to the National Airspace System (NAS), as well as to the nation’s fragile economy.
NATCA issued a statement saying, “The current furloughs of air traffic controllers may be due to unique and unusual circumstances but after a single day of delays throughout the aviation system, it’s clear they should be halted immediately. On Sunday, the first day of the furloughs, lengthy delays at major airports in New York and Los Angeles inconvenienced passengers and contributed to further delays across the country despite mostly good weather and flying conditions. The delays could have been worse had the controllers not stayed after their shifts at key facilities like LAX Tower and Atlanta Terminal Radar Approach Control.”
Christopher Oswald, Airports Council International’s (ACI-NA) Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs, warned on Sunday, “ACI-NA is very concerned about significant delays and passenger inconvenience that could occur beginning this Sunday because of air traffic controller furloughs. Based on information provided by FAA, we are particularly concerned that other factors, including bad weather, could make delays even worse.”
The sequester was brought about because House Republicans refused to do their job after they held the international economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. They are currently refusing to proceed with the budget reconciliation process, after getting exactly what they demanded last December from Democrats.
NATCA warns, “These cuts will be significant, and their effects will likely have long-lasting consequences.”
But fear not, because this is an issue that impacts your representatives, who often fly home on the weekends. While our elected officials aren’t impacted by cuts to starving children or the elderly, a flight delay in their busy schedule is a Very Important Problem, so perhaps this will hit home. Delays are something everyone notices, which is why Boehner’s office is trying desperately to blame President Obama yet again for Boehner’s own broken House. Boehner’s relentless whinging about the President may not fare so well as these delays get worse.
If cutting $600 million from the budget is so easy, Speaker Boehner should have no problem ending subsidies to oil companies. I’m sure they can find hundreds of millions in cuts by noon tomorrow without impacting their general operations or safety. If it’s good enough for government, it’s good enough for the private sector that’s subsidized by the taxpayers. Waste not, want not.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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