By Shelley Russell
WATERLOO (KWWL) – If Congress fails to reach an agreement regarding automatic budget cuts set to take place on March 1st, it could have serious impacts on air travel.
The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood warned Friday that air travel could become a nightmare if an agreement to avoid the sequestration doesn’t come soon.
“To prepare for the possibility of a budget sequestration on March 1, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is making plans to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of FY 2013,” Lahood wrote in a letter addressed to “Aviation Colleagues.”
Lahood said among the proposed changes are furloughs for the vast majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees, the elimination of midnight shifts in 60 towers across the country, and the closing of more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year.
Three air traffic control towers in Iowa are on the chopping block including towers at Waterloo, Dubuque and Sioux City airports.
“It’s always preferable to have a tower,” said Brad Hagen, Airport Director at Waterloo Regional Airport.
“It adds a level of safety and a level of coordination which is also something we prefer,” he said.
Hagen said regardless of what happens with the airport’s tower, flights will continue regularly.
“If there is an interruption of service, planes will continue to land and take off at Waterloo as normal, and it is still a safe operation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Manager of the Dubuque Regional Airport Robert Grierson said the airport can function without a tower but eliminating it is “not a smart move.”
Grierson said the air traffic control tower provides an extra layer of safety.
No changes will be taking place immediately.
The Department of Transportation and the FAA will have discussions with union representatives before any facility would be shut down.