Air traffic controllers are warning the budget gridlock in Washington could mean gridlock at LAX and other airports, with major flight delays on the way.
If lawmakers can’t reach a budget deal, the Federal Aviation Administration will be forced to slash almost half a billion dollars from its operating budget. To come up with the savings, it will close 100 air traffic control towers and make controllers take furlough days.
Bottom line: There will be fewer air traffic controllers on duty.
“It will impact the amount of air traffic we’re able to work into the system on a daily basis,” said air traffic controller Michael Foote, who's been guiding planes at LAX for 16 years. Foote also represents the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) - the controllers’ union.
Foote says the impact of sequestration won’t be immediate - but he says when the furloughs take effect, LAX won’t able to fully use all its runways.
“You’re probably looking at a 20 percent reduction in arrival rate,” said Foote. “That means 20 percent of aircraft are sitting somewhere else instead of landing on our runways.”
Departures won’t be spared either, which means air travelers can expect lots of waiting.
But Foote says it’s far better than the alternative: having more planes in the air than controllers can manage.
“Radar controllers are going to do what they always do, which is to stop airplanes on the ground, because that’s the safest place to be,” says Foote.
Even if lawmakers quickly reach a deal after Friday, NATCA says the dire effects of sequestration could be difficult if not impossible to reverse. They warn that passengers could be subjected to more delays for years to come.
Road trip, anyone?