The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) anticipates control tower closures and flight delays at major airports in the USA if $85 billion in federal budget cuts go into affect on 1 March.
More than 100 air traffic control towers could close and midnight shifts could be eliminated at more than 60 additional towers as a result of $600 million that would be cut from the FAA budget as a result of the so-called sequestration cuts, said the regulator on 22 February. Towers that could close outright are mostly at general aviation airports but include Paine Field, which is home to a major Boeing aircraft final assembly line, while towers losing midnight shifts could include those at Austin, Chicago Midway and San Juan airports.
The FAA warned that travellers should expect delays of up to 90min during peak times at major airports, including those in Chicago and New York, as a result of the sequester.
"We are committed to working with all of you to manage the impact that these automatic cuts will have on the aviation system and on air travellers," said US secretary of transportation Ray LaHood and FAA administration Michael Huerta in a letter to industry organisations. The closures are not final until the agency receives further details of the cuts.
The closures would be in effect until the end of the fiscal 2013 budget on 30 September.
“The communities most dependent on scheduled service from regional airlines for their only connection to the global economy will be hurt the most," said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, in a statement.
Airline industry group Airlines for America (A4A) said that it and its member air carriers would be meeting with the FAA "soon" to plan for the possible cutbacks, on 22 February.
"No one wants to see the sequester happen," said A4A. "Air transportation is a key driver of our economy, and should not be used as a political football."
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and US Airways decline to comment on the impact of the cuts.