WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spelled out the impact of looming across-the-board budget cuts on travelers Friday: 90-minute airport waits, limited flights and closed regional airports. Republicans dismissed the warnings as “exaggerations.”
LaHood became the latest Cabinet official to spell out ways the public will feel the effects of automatic federal spending cuts due to begin March 1.
He said the cuts would require slicing more than $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, resulting in furloughs of one day per pay period for most of the agency’s 47,000 employees.
“Once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights,” LaHood said.
He said fliers could experience 90-minute delays or more in major cities.
Moreover, the Transportation Department is looking “to likely close” air
traffic control towers at 100 airports that have fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.
“We’re talking about places like Boca Raton, Fla.; Joplin, Mo.; Hilton Head, S.C.; and San Marcos, Texas,” LaHood said. Nearly two-thirds of the affected airports are concentrated in three states: California, Florida and Texas.
Airlines for America, an industry group, said the organization, the FAA and airline carriers would be meeting soon to plan for potential cutbacks.
“Air transportation is a key driver of our economy, and should not be used as a political football,” the statement said.
Top Republicans on congressional transportation and aviation panels accused the administration of unnecessary alarm.
“Before jumping to the conclusion that furloughs must be implemented, the administration and the agency need to sharpen their pencils and consider all the options,” said the statement from Rep. Bill Shuster, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
LaHood denied he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would try to scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers.
“What I’m trying to do,” he said, “is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come
to the table so we don’t have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America.”
A National Park Service memo obtained Friday said cuts would mean furloughs, reduced hours and sensitive areas would be blocked off to the public when there are staff shortages.