The FAA has instituted work furloughs of air traffic controllers, which they claim is necessary to comply with sequestration budget cuts.
These went into effect yesterday, and inbound delays of over an hour could be seen at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports. The FAA has predicted much longer delays to come at major airports. We’ll see what actually develops, it’s not obvious that even lower staffing levels should cause the degree of delays have been predicted (although they could certainly make it so).
As I wrote to Tyler Cowen, the FAA budget is up substantially over the past decade while air traffic control handles fewer flights.
It’s hardly necessary to cut this deep into air traffic control to comply with the Budget Control Act’s sequestration provisions. And the notion that they can’t make modest reductions to their budget without crippling the nation’s travel is silly.
They have far greater discretion than is generally realized in deciding how to carry out their cuts — the Budget Control Act doesn’t define programs and projects and allows the Administration to draw a circle around those things that get proportional cuts (they could fold NextGen air traffic control capital investments in with their air traffic control budget for sequestration purposes, and defer capital investments if they didn’t want to make other cuts).
Politico covered last month the way that air traffic control cuts have been used as a political tool to make sequestration look as bad as possible.
The President will claim a snarled air traffic system is due to the sequester (with larger implications — if these modest cuts are so disastrous, we can’t consider any larger cuts to the budget).
But will he get enough airplay for this? It depends on what new news comes out of the Boston bombing suspect (or the Jodi Arias trial for that matter!). People were paying attention to the sequester weeks ago, but a lot of time has passed.
This will either be a terrible thing for Republicans, their obstructionism is destroying business travel (and the economy). Or it will be a terrible thing for Democrats, they can’t run the nation’s air traffic control system. It probably depends whose message gets out. If I had to bet, it would be that the Republicans are bad at communicating coherent messages. But there’s the X factor of the news cycle.
Republicans may get temporary blame, the President will hope they cave. If they don’t, the President will ultimately eat disapproval and become open to a targeted ‘fix’ to air traffic control furloughs.
In the meantime the traveling public becomes a pawn in political budget maneuvering. Remember Gary’s first law — all politics is fake (and this applies equally to both sides).