DALLAS -- Federal officials say air traffic control centers at 25 smaller Texas airports could close or see hours reduced if automatic federal spending cuts take effect next week.Air travelers should expect delays when the cutbacks begin in April, the officials say.The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that the reductions are part of its plan to cope with a spending reduction of $600 million during the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.The FAA said it is considering furloughing most of its 47,000 employees for one day every two weeks -- in effect, a 10 percent reduction in staffing -- and closing more than 100 air traffic control centers, including 19 in Texas. Overnight shifts could be eliminated at more than 60 additional airports, including six in Texas.The largest airports, such as Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport, are not on the FAA's list of potential closures or cutbacks.Airports where air traffic control facilities could be closed include Fort Worth Spinks, Arlington Municipal, Grand Prairie Municipal, Dallas Executive and Collin County Regional in McKinney. The airports would remain open even without staffed air traffic control towers.Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA chief Michael Huerta said Friday in a letter to aviation industry trade groups that the agency "may reduce the efficiency of the national airspace in order to maintain the highest safety standards."LaHood also outlined the consequences of budget cuts that could inconvenience millions of travelers at a White House briefing where he criticized congressional Republicans who are challenging President Barack Obama and Democrats over reducing the deficit. Without at least a stopgap deal by March 1, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, will take effect at U.S. agencies."I think Republicans need to step up here," said LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois. "This requires compromise."Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on staff, federal officials said.Airlines are likely to cancel some flights if they expect problems, similar to how they reduce flights during bad weather to avoid overloading a weakened air-travel system.There's still a chance the deadline could be pushed back, as it was at the end of 2012. Government rules require giving workers 30 days' notice of furloughs, which can't start until March 1, so the slowdowns would be expected to hit in April.On Thursday, airline industry officials tried to be optimistic that political leaders will reach a deal."We fully expect and urge the Congress and the president to ensure that the air transportation system is not negatively impacted" by automatic spending cuts, said Dan Elwell, senior vice president for safety and operations at Airlines for America, a trade group representing big U.S. airlines.LaHood stressed potential hardships for airlines and their passengers."It's going to be very painful for the flying public," LaHood said. "This is going to have an enormous impact."LaHood is creating needless alarm when it's not clear that furloughs will be necessary, House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and other senior congressional Republicans said in a statement."Prematurely outlining the potential impacts before identifying other savings is not helpful," according to the statement from Shuster, of Pennsylvania, New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo and South Dakota Sen. John Thune."Today's exaggerations are not backed up by any real financial data," the lawmakers said.Staff writer Andrea Ahles contributed to this report, which includes material from Bloomberg News.
The Texas air traffic control facilities that could be closed, according to an FAA list: Fort Worth Spinks, Arlington Municipal, Grand Prairie Municipal, Waco Regional, New Braunfels Municipal, Jack Brooks Regional (Beaumont), Brownsville-South Padre Island International, Easterwood Field (College Station), TSTC (Waco), Lone Star Executive (Houston), East Texas Regional (Longview), Georgetown Municipal, San Marcos Municipal, Dallas Executive, Sugar Land Regional, Stinson Municipal (San Antonio), Collin County Regional (McKinney), Tyler Pounds Regional and Victoria Regional.
The Texas facilities that could see overnight shifts eliminated: Fort Worth's Meacham tower, Abilene control tower, Austin tower, Corpus Christi tower, El Paso tower, Lubbock tower.