If you want to know how misleading the Obama administration is being about the effects of the sequester, look no further than Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s dark warnings about flight delays.
LaHood showed up at the daily White House press briefing Friday to claim the sequester — automatic spending cuts President Obama insisted on that are now scheduled to take effect in March — will “be very painful for the flying public.”
Because of those cuts, he said, the department will have to furlough flight controllers, leading to “delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours” at major airports.
It will also have to close more than 100 air traffic control towers, and preventive maintenance and runway repairs “might not be possible.”
But LaHood, taking his cues from Obama, is needlessly trying to panic the public.
Take the claim that cutting back on flight controllers will lead to massive delays.
Back in 2000, the FAA handled 23% more air traffic with fewer flight controllers than it employs today, according to the Department of Transportation’s own inspector general, who added this raises “questions about the efficiency of FAA’s current controller workforce.”
Either air traffic controllers have gotten far less efficient over the past 13 years, or the FAA could get by with about 3,400 fewer of them — without affecting the quality of air travel one bit. Cutting out those excess controllers would get LaHood more than halfway to the $600 million he has to cut from the FAA’s budget.
And while LaHood ominously talks about closing 100 control towers, what he doesn’t say is that these towers should have been closed long ago.
In fact, Bloomberg News reports the FAA itself identified more than 100 “zombie towers” that handle so few flights they should be cut back or closed.
Then there’s the fact the administration has more flexibility in dealing with the sequester cuts than LaHood, or anyone else working for Obama, is willing to admit.
As the fact-checking site PolitiFact.com points out, “within the specific programs targeted for cuts, federal managers have a fair amount of discretion about what to reduce.”
And finally, instead of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, LaHood could use the current budget cuts as an opportunity to do what Canada did 17 years ago when it also faced a severe budget crunch: fundamentally reform the air traffic control system.
Instead of a government-run agency, a private nonprofit called Nav Canada now runs Canada’s air traffic control, with user fees rather than federal funds covering the costs. Today, Nav Canada operates with 25% fewer workers than under the old government system, despite a 50% increase in traffic.
And, unlike the FAA, which has been struggling for years to upgrade its woefully outdated equipment, Nav Canada has deployed state-of-the-art technology that it’s now selling to other countries.