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How the Sequester Will Impact Travel as FAA Delays Cuts

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FAA LogoDays before the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was set to shutter air traffic control towers under the sequestration, the government agency delayed the decision until June.

Under the mandatory budget cuts, the FAA was expected to slash $637 million from its budget.

The largest change would have been the closing of 149 contract towers across the country, which is expected to save up to $40 billion. The FAA decided to close towers with less than 150,000 flights or 10,000 operations per year.

FAA officials have announced they will now close the airports as of June 15, when all funding will cease.

The FAA’s original plan was to begin a phased, four-week closure process beginning on April 5, but this has changed. Since this announcement, at least five different airports have sued the FAA, and the FAA has announced a delay on the airport closures, most likely to handle the legal aspect.

House representatives have now introduced a bill that would block the closure. The Air Traffic Control Tower Funding Restoration Act, is sponsored by representatives from Iowa, Arkansas and North Carolina.

Some of these smaller airports were only recently opened from stimulus funding, and were part of an effort to create more jobs across the country. While thousands of airports within the U.S. operate without an air control tower, it requires changes most airports cannot afford.

All 149 air traffic towers are currently employing contract workers, not employees of the FAA. Some of these employees will make the transition to join the union and find new jobs, but others will not. In some cases, airport authorities and invested parties have suggested that they will join the non-federal contract tower program and privately fund airport operations themselves.

To see the full list of all 149 airports that may be affected, click here.

What other cuts means for you:

Some of the small airports being closed have been used for diverted traffic when large airports have too many incoming flights to handle. This would no longer be an option, which could mean landings and takeoffs.

Cuts to the midnight shift will mean that selected airports can no longer have later incoming flights, restricting airlines and passengers in their travel times.

Less preventative maintenance can mean more possible breakdowns, since minor issues will remain until they become a serious problem.

The FAA has also acknowledged that since fewer controllers would be be on staff in the larger airports of major cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, it is possible to have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has already stated that budget cuts have led to waits of up to 4 hours for passengers coming in from overseas.

Airlines are most likely in the process of adapting their schedules by changing times and cancelling flights, but you may want to look for flights during off-peak times. Unfortunately, red-eye flights may not always be an option, so you’ll have to settle for the next best thing.

If you rely on one of these smaller airports, you may have to scope out others near you for convenient flights.

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 By Stephanie Ervin for