WASHINGTON--The White House is sounding the alarm on the impact of the looming March 1 sequester deadline, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warning Friday that if Congress does not act to head off automatic federal spending cuts, flights to Chicago, New York and San Francisco could face big delays.
LaHood, at the Friday White House briefing said,"Here is what these automatic cuts are going to mean for the traveling public. Obviously, as always, safety is our top priority, and we will never allow the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land -- which means travelers should expect delays. Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff. Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country. Cuts to budgets mean preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, which could lead to more delays.
"And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights," he said.
"So we are beginning today discussions with our unions to likely close more than a hundred air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year. And we're talking about places like Boca Raton, Florida; Joplin, Missouri; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and San Marcos, Texas.
"The list of the towers -- the list of potential towers that are to be closed or elimination of midnight shifts is posted on our website as I'm speaking now, so you can see the entire list there. We're also beginning discussions with unions to eliminate midnight shifts in over 60 towers across the country. These closures will impact services for commercial, general aviation and military aircraft. This will delay travelers and delay the critical goods and services that communities across the country need. These are harmful cuts with real-world consequences that will cost jobs and hurt our economy.
"The president has put forward a solution to avoid these cuts. And as a former member of Congress of 14 years, I urge my former colleagues to address this issue when they get back next Monday and to work on a long-term balanced solution to our deficit challenges."