Area airports could be hit by sequestration

By By John Guidroz / American Press

Five Louisiana airports, including Chennault International Airport and Lake Charles Regional Airport, could lose air traffic

control facilities if the across-the-board cuts from sequestration take effect March 1, federal officials said Friday.

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of

Transportation, and Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal

Aviation Administration, sent

a letter to several aviation associations outlining the projected

cuts. The loss of air traffic control facilities is part

of the FAA’s plan to cut expenditures by $600 million for the rest

of the 2013 fiscal year in anticipation of the sequester.

“Beyond the letter, we haven’t been

contacted officially by anyone,” said Chennault’s executive director,

Randy Robb. “This

is what we called a drill when I worked at the Pentagon — what

would you do in such a situation, a what-if plan, if sequestration

occurs on schedule.

“We’re hopeful for a better outcome.

Our airfield is open 24 hours a day, and our tower is staffed from 6

a.m. to 10 p.m.

We are regularly accessed by military aircraft, of course, because

Chennault can handle every type of aircraft flying in the

world today — but military airplanes won’t go to an uncontrolled

field.

“If sequestration proceeds, there are options available for our tower operations, and we will pursue those options.”

More than 100 air traffic control towers “at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations

per year” are being considered for closure, according to the letter. Monroe Regional Airport, Shreveport Downtown Airport,

and New Orleans Lakefront Airport also were listed as potentially losing air traffic control facilities.

“Sequestration is something that we

have been concerned with for some time; however, the focus of these cuts

are just now

coming to light,” said Lake Charles Regional Airport Director

Heath Allen. “The potential closing of these towers would undoubtedly

have far-reaching negative impacts to our nation’s economy. While

this does not mean that the airport would cease to operate,

air traffic control is critical to the safety and efficiency of

our nation’s air transportation system.”

Another change being considered includes furloughing “the vast majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees” for “one day

per pay period” until September, the end of the fiscal year. Employees could be furloughed up to two days per pay period.

Midnight shifts could be eliminated for 60 towers nationwide, including the Shreveport Tower at Barksdale Air Force Base.

LaHood and Huerta said people flying to cities like New York, Chicago or San Francisco “could experience delays of up to 90

minutes during peak hours.”