By Lysée Mitri
ALBUQUERQUE – Air travel is one of the many areas that would be severely impacted if Congress doesn’t take action by Friday to stop automatic budget cuts.
Nationally, officials are warning it could mean furloughs and other cuts that would cause long delays for flights to major cities.
In New Mexico, it could mean cutting hours for air traffic controllers or even eliminating them altogether at the state’s smaller airports, like Double Eagle II on Albuquerque’s west side.
The Federal Aviation Administration has said budget cuts may force them to close more than a hundred air traffic control towers at small airports like this one.
Double Eagle II airport on Albuquerque’s west side sees between 60,000-70,000 takeoffs and landings a year, according to spokesperson Daniel Jiron.
Military aircraft, charter flights and pilots in training count on air traffic controllers to help them travel safely.
But FAA is warning automatic budget cuts that could go into effect March 1st could mean no more traffic controllers in New Mexico’s smaller airports.
“Most general aviation airports don’t have towers,” Jiron says. “We just built one several years ago because we had the means to do so and the traffic numbers showed we would increase safety by having a tower there.”
Without traffic controllers, pilots communicate directly with each other.
FAA has Double Eagle II and the airports in Santa Fe, Roswell and Hobbs on a list of those that could be affected.
Plus, the Sunport could see a cut in hours, leaving the traffic tower empty between 1-6 a.m.
It would not impact passenger flights, which don’t run at those times, but…
“We are a divert airport between Phoenix and Dallas and east-west traffic, so being closed at those hours could impact any emergency traffic that may have to divert to Albuquerque,” Jiron says.
He says Sunport officials have talked with FAA about those concerns.
“Whatever does happen, we’ll ensure it is a minimal amount of disruption to our customers and again, safety is always the number one priority.”
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association released a statement Friday saying these actions by the FAA will do much more than inconvenience travelers. The president says jobs will be lost, harming local economies.