By Omri Ceren
This can’t still be going on. There’s no way this is still going on, right? There can’t still be debates taking place over whether sequestrations will crush airline security—with the sides being yes and no and why the hell is this even a thing—can there be?
Come on. The latest news involves having the FAA shut down 149 “federal contract” air traffic control towers on April 7. The agency was originally going to shut down 189 towers but was convinced to spare an addition 40 due to of safety considerations (read: the airports were in districts represented by powerful members of Congress or the towers were staffed by government union employees).
What effect will it the closings have? Nobody knows! That’s the fun part of sequesteration. Even the news angles are all mixed up. There are people who want to make news out of the fact that nothing is happening, so they can say nothing is happening. The problem is that journalists are traditionally loathe to write about nothing, because that’s not really anything. And even when something bad does make news—which should theoretically help officials who want to highlight the sequester’s impact—it can wildly backfire.
That said, we just can’t see this becoming a huge deal. All of the airports are staying open. The towers getting shuttered are at minor airports, and some of them are quite new. Planes don’t technically need to be in contact with ground controllers to make an airport run. Especially at the small airports affected by the cuts, radios should theoretically be just fine.
Now presumably there was a reason why towers got built in the first place at small airports, and that reason hasn’t changed. But since none of the airports are getting shut down, the danger can’t be that significant. Play out the scenario in your head: the FAA shuts down an airport’s tower, there’s a crash and somebody dies, and then the question becomes “why didn’t they take the money from somewhere else?” Maybe the agency really has no other money in no other place, so they have to do this. But if there’s an extra $50 million lying around and it didn’t get spent on the airport tower, then suddenly we’re in a world of cable news screaming matches and Congressional hearings. You really think the FAA is willing risk that?