The Fallout of Sequester Cuts

While every community has, in some way, been affected by the “sequester” imposed on March 1 of this year, it took almost 2 months for the general public – the traveling kind anyway – to start feeling its widespread effects. On Sunday, April 20th, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration furloughed all 47,000 agency employees, including almost 15,000 controllers, and closed 149 contract air traffic control towers in an effort to meet the imposed budget cuts of approximately $600 million this year.

This step caused more than 2,250 flight delays on Monday and Tuesday. The airports hit hardest on Monday were Charlotte, which had more than one third of its flights delayed, and New York’s LaGuardia airport, with over half of the scheduled flights leaving or arriving late.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, 5,800 flights were delayed across the U.S. – including weather-related delays –  in the first three days of the furloughs compared with 2,500 delays in the corresponding period a year ago.

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FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stated on Wednesday that flight delays in the United States linked to the furlough of thousands of air traffic controllers have not been as bad as expected so far. According to him, the agency could not find the kind of “sizeable” non-payroll budget cuts that would have avoided furloughs and the resulting flight delays. It has cut spending on contracts, information technology, travel and other non-payroll expenses, but since 70 percent of its operations budget goes to pay it was left with no other choice.

US Airways, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have warned that furloughs could cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

“We can’t do this for long without having major disruption to the flying public,” US Airways CEO Doug Parker said in an interview on Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently reviewing a motion filed last Friday, April 19th, by two airline industry associations, Airlines for America (A4A) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA), requesting a moratorium of the tarmac delay rule which places a three-hour limit on the length of time airlines can keep passengers waiting inside planes on the tarmac without giving them the opportunity to return to a terminal. Airlines can be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger for violating the limit.

The Associated Press writes that “under growing pressure, the Obama administration signaled Wednesday it might accept legislation eliminating Federal Aviation Administration furloughs blamed for lengthy delays affecting airline passengers, while leaving the rest of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in place.”

Author: Heidi Lind, International Group Coordinator, BridgehouseLaw Charlotte
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Reinhard von Hennigs