Supercommittee's Failure Could Spell Big Trouble for Air Transport

 - November 23, 2011, 9:30 AM
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood warned of "across-the-board" cuts to critical aviation infrastructure projects in the U.S.

The failure of the U.S. Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach a deal on a new deficit-reduction plan will trigger automatic spending cuts in 2013 that could cripple many of the agencies the nation’s air transportation system needs to operate safety and efficiently, according to the ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations. While the so-called supercommittee had until November 23 to produce a plan, the members conceded defeat on Monday, November 21.

In a letter sent last month to members of the supercommittee, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) calculated how the 7.8-percent reduction on discretionary appropriations for nondefense programs would affect the Federal Aviation Administration, for example. Although each agency would need to determine for itself how to accomplish the spending cuts imposed upon it, the assessment comes as a sobering reminder of what could transpire.

According to Dicks, the $39 billion in cuts in nondefense programs could cost the FAA’s air traffic control organization more than 2,000 jobs, including more than 1,200 air traffic controllers, 525 technicians and 400 support staff. As a result, the FAA could have to close 246 ATC contract towers.

Furthermore, the FAA would not replace more than 600 safety and aircraft certification inspectors lost through attrition, resulting in a delay in the approval of new aviation products. Dicks also estimated that the FAA would need to furlough every operations-funded employee for three days.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration would lose 9,000 screener positions, causing massive delays at airport checkpoints and forcing the TSA to eliminate many of the security layers it built over the past several years. Similarly, said Dicks, progress toward meeting the statutory requirement to screen 100 percent of all air cargo on passenger aircraft would cease, as would all new efforts to screen more international cargo shipments. The TSA would also have to stop investing in new technologies expected to more efficiently screen air cargo by private sector partners.

“Because the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement, we now face across-the-board cuts to programs that are critical to rebuilding our crumbling transportation infrastructure and putting Americans back to work,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement sent to AIN. “The American people want commonsense, bipartisan solutions that take a balanced approach to reducing the deficit while protecting critical transportation investments that create jobs and allow our economy to grow.”