Airport cuts loom without federal budget deal
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 23, 2013
2/23/13 at 7:14 AM
The Federal Aviation Administration may cut overnight air traffic controllers at Tulsa International Airport and Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City if Congress doesn't pass a plan to avoid $1.2 trillion in spending cuts known as sequestration.
In addition, air traffic control facilities could be closed at six other Oklahoma airports with FAA towers - in Stillwater, Norman, Ardmore, Lawton, Enid and Wiley Post Airport in Bethany.
"The impact of closing the tower at Stillwater and the other five FAA contract tower airports in the state would be devastating to the safety of flying at these facilities," said Gary Johnson, director of Stillwater Regional Airport. "These airports support the business and industry community air travel ... as well as the U.S. Air Force."
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood outlined the cuts in a letter to aviation authorities Friday, saying they need to prepare for the agency being required to cut $600 million from its operating budget for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The pending cuts stem from last year's debt ceiling negotiations in Congress that required lawmakers to pass $1.2 million in budget cuts. If Congress isn't up to the task by March 1, federal departments would see across-the-board spending cuts of 10 percent.
The FAA is also considering furloughing its 47,000 employees one day every two weeks until the end of the September, a move that could significantly delay air travel.
"As a consequence of employee furloughs and prolonged equipment outages resulting from lower parts inventories and fewer technicians, travelers should expect delays," the letter states. "Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff."
Tulsa International has few passenger flights during overnight shifts, but private planes and cargo planes routinely use the airport at those times, said airport Director Jeff Mulder.
If Tulsa's overnight air traffic controllers are cut, planes on the ground and in the area would be responsible for broadcasting their actions to other pilots. It's the same model that's used at smaller airports such as Jones-Riverside Airport at Jenks.
The FAA employs 37 people at Tulsa International and 39 at Will Rogers in Oklahoma City.
Complete tower closures would occur at more than 100 airports where the government contracts with private companies to provide air traffic control services, the FAA said.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said cutting the eight-hour overnight shift at Tulsa International would probably affect two employees, although they might be reassigned to other positions instead of losing their jobs.
Johnson said the Stillwater airport has five air traffic control employees. Its contracted tower program, which is also used at the other smaller Oklahoma airports, run at a fraction of the cost of FAA-run towers, he said.
Johnson noted that the cuts would likely impact flights for Oklahoma State University athletes that use the airport at various hours of the day and night.
"It's a surprise that the cuts come to the FAA's most cost-efficient locations," he said.
Oklahoma airports facing possibly cuts
Overnight shift: Tulsa, Oklahoma City
Facility closure: Stillwater, Enid, Norman, Ardmore, Wiley Post (Bethany), Lawton
Original Print Headline: Airport cuts loom minus budget deal
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta (left), and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: They outlined the cuts in a letter to Oklahoma aviation authorities, saying they should prepare for the impact of a $600 million cut in the agency's operating budget through Sept. 30.