Transportation Secretary on Budget Cuts: Over 100 Air Traffic Control Towers May Be Closed

By Melanie Arter | February 22, 2013 | 1:39 PM EST

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (AP Photo)

( – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking at the White House press briefing on Friday, said that more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with less than 150,000 flight operations per year may be closed down in order to meet the $1 billion budget cuts required by the sequester for his department.

“We are beginning today discussions with our unions to likely close more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year,” LaHood said.

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The Transportation Department needs to cut $1 billion with $600 million specifically cut from the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget. Furloughs of one-day per pay period would impact most FAA employees, LaHood said.

The secretary warned of up to 90-minute delays during peak hours at airports in major cities, because of reduced air traffic controllers.

Sequestration refers to $1.2 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts to defense and non-defense spending that will begin March 1 unless Congress comes up with a plan to reduce the deficit.

Budget cuts would be made to preventative maintenance, which means “quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, which could lead to more delays,” LaHood said.

“And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights,” the Transportation secretary said.

Air traffic control towers in places like Boca Raton, Fla., Joplin, Mo., Hilton Head, S.C., and San Marcos, Texas, may be closed, and midnight shifts may be eliminated at over 60 towers, LaHood announced.

The list of potential towers that could be closed was posted on the Transportation Department’s website.