Aviation supporters warn sequestration cuts will hit fliers too

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The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) program group has made the same point in a report released this month titled “Oops, I Lost the Airport.”

The report found that 106 airport flight towers could be shut down if the sequestration is not avoided, which CAP argued would effectively close many smaller airports.

“Under the terms of the 2011 law dictating the cuts, FAA officials will be unable to shield air traffic control (or any other FAA-funded service) from cuts,” the CAP report said. “To minimize disruption at major airports, therefore, FAA officials will likely be forced to cut air traffic service at airports where they would have the least impact on the traveling public — the smaller airports.”

CAP Senior Fellow Scott Lilly said Friday that the FAA could avoid closing airports by reducing the number of overall flights in the United States.

“There are currently about 70,000 flights per day monitored by the FAA controllers,” Lilly wrote in a blog post on the CAP website Friday. “The number of controllers who must be cut is 12 percent rather than only 9 percent because Congress mandated that these cuts begin on Jan. 2, a quarter of the way through the fiscal year. But if you randomly cut back the number of takeoffs and landings by 12 percent, you would not necessarily reduce the number of controllers required to run the system unless you reduce the time that planes can be in the air.”

But Lilly said cutting back the number of planes in the sky would be “would actually be less disruptive."

“Eliminating the 70,000 flights that would have otherwise taken place on each of those 33 days would force about 66 million passengers to seek other arrangements,” he said.

By contrast, Lilly said, closing flight towers at smaller airports "would affect about one-third as many passengers even if all commercial passenger flights were canceled."