By Carolyn Roy
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) – Six Louisiana air traffic control centers could see their hours cut back or closed if automatic federal spending cuts take effect next week, including two in Shreveport. Texarkana Regional Airport could also be affected.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, plans are in place to reduce expenditures by about $600 million for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 in order to prepare for the possibility of a budget sequestration on March 1.
In addition to the possibility of furloughs for the “vast majority” of their 47,000 employees for approximately 1 day per pay period and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment, the FAA has released a list of more than 100 air traffic control facilities that could be closed, and more than 60 that could have their overnight shifts eliminated.
Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV) is on the list of facilities that could lose its overnight shift if the federal budget is not approved by the deadline.
Shreveport Regional is one of only 2 airports in Louisiana that has a 24-hour control tower, mostly to serve cargo flights in the overnight hours.
Marketing & PR Manger Mark Crawford says this would mean the loss of a 6-hour shift sometime overnight, although the exact hours have not yet been determined. While cargo carriers prefer air traffic control services where available, Crawford says they can and would likely continue to take off and land there without it. The loss of the overnight shift should not affect commercial flights.
Crawford says furloughs could be expected as a result of the eliminated shift.
The Shreveport Downtown Airport (DTN) and Texarkana Regional Airport (TXK) are both on the FAA’s list of air traffic facilities that could shut down altogether.
The Downtown Airport would likely continue to function for general aviation (not commercial or cargo flights) without air traffic control staffing. While they already operate overnight without it, Downtown Airport Manager Stacy Kuba says the complete loss of the tower would be cause for concern for the busiest airport in the region. More planes take off and land there than they do from Shreveport Regional Airport. “The whole region would be affected, even out to Barksdale Air Force Base, just because of how congested our airspace is,” Kuba says.
Complete closure is also cause for concern for Texarkana Regional Airport Director Steve Luebbert. He says the news of the possible cuts is not unexpected, but worries about losing the airport’s lone airline carrier, American Eagle Airlines. Luebbert says if the airport closes, 128 direct and indirect jobs could be affected.
Changes could also bring cuts to TSA workers, possibly making lines longer and increasing wait times.
“The timing of keeping the kid happy can make a big difference,” says Julie Yanson. Yanson travels with her one year old son and says these changes would make it more difficult to travel.
Air traffic control facilities at Chennault International (CWF) and Lake Charles Regional in Lake Charles (LCH) could also be closed, as well as Monroe Regional (MLU) and New Orleans’ Lakefront (NEW).
Furloughs and facility shut-downs would begin in April.
Click here for a complete list of airports where overnight shifts would be eliminated.
Click here for the full list of towers that could be closed altogether.
In U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s official blog post on Friday, the DOT warned of the “serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and the nation’s economy.
Citing the need to cut nearly a billion dollars, the post warns that the $600 million that will have to come out of the FAA budget would ultimately be felt “far and wide in the form of delayed travel for air passengers, and disruptions to air cargo shipping.”
Posted below are the details on what the DOT says the automatic cuts are going to mean for the traveling public:
• Safety is our top priority and we will only allow the amount of air traffic we can handle safely to take off and land – which means travelers should expect delays.
• 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.
• Delays in those major airports will ripple across the country.
• Cuts to budgets mean preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible which could lead to more delays.
“Once the airlines see what the potential impacts of these furloughs will be,” the DOT post says, “we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”