Federal sequestration could mean fewer flights and increased wait times at airports, Virginia lawmakers said Monday.
Further, it threatens to close small- to mid-sized airports across the country.
The massive, indiscriminate spending cuts Congress put in motion to force a budget compromise would cut $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration if they go into effect Friday.
Jobs on the Line
Under sequestration, the FAA would have to furlough employees for 11 days — with as much as 10 percent of its workforce furloughed on any given day — and the agency would be unable to hire replacements for the 30 percent of its workers eligible to retire.
Up to 2,200 air traffic controllers would be furloughed, forcing airports to reduce the number of flights coming and going. Beyond that, $136 million would be eliminated from an air traffic control modernization fund and as many as 1,480 ongoing aircraft and parts manufacturing projects would be in jeopardy.
Further, sequestration would eliminate 2,750 customs officers and 5,000 border patrol agents. Customs and Border Patrol employees would see up to 14 furlough days, causing wait times at the busiest airports to exceed three hours and thousands of passengers to miss connecting flights, according to a fact sheet put together by the offices of U.S. Reps. Jim Moran, Gerry Connolly and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.
'The Impact of Sequestration Cannot be Underestimated'
"Let's be clear that this is not a theoretical issue," Capt. Sean Cassidy, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association International, said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Monday.
"The impact of sequestration cannot be underestimated, because at the very time many of our passengers are contemplating their next business trip or family vacation, our pilots are looking at a future in which they will have no other choice than to leave those passengers stringed at the gate."
"My optimism meter is higher than my confidence meter," Kaine said about reaching a compromise this week. "Conceptually, it's not difficult to do. If we can agree on a balanced approach, we can negotiate the cuts."
If Congress cannot agree on an alternative, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would begin to go into effect on Friday. The first $85 billion would be cut from the current budget year, which started Oct. 1.
Kaine would like to see lawmakers agree on $85 billion in targeted cuts, and then make future cuts part of the normal budgeting process.
Moran and Connolly were downright pessimistic.
"It's going to happen, and it's going to happen on Friday," Moran told Patch.
"This isn't crying wolf," Connolly said. "This is real."
The lawmakers were joined by the pilots association along with representatives of trade groups for aviation safety specialists, federal employees and the travel industry.
Broader and International Economic Effects
Commercial aviation makes up 5 percent of this country's gross domestic product, Cassidy said.
The ripple effect of fewer business and vacation flights will be felt in communities across the country, said Geoff Freeman, chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association. That means less money will be spent in restaurants, grocery stores and hotels by travelers.
"Their wallets become a little looser when they're on the road," Freeman said.
The association has launched a campaign where people can text "DELAYED" to 877-877 and be connected to the office of their congressman.
Moran and Connolly expressed frustration with House members determined to see spending cuts and, as Connolly put it, "consequences be damned."
"The aviation industry is labor intensive," Moran said. "This will show the American public how important the federal government is."
Moran and Connolly said people should continue to buy plane tickets, but be prepared to get to the airport earlier and wait longer for trips after Friday.
Half of the sequestration cuts would affect defense and military spending; the rest, domestic spending such as aviation and education.