The FAA is continuing to develop a contingency plan to deal with looming federal budget cuts, with infrastructure contracts and employees likely to be among the first targets.

U.S. Deputy Secretary for Transportation John Porcari acknowledges there is a “very high likelihood” that the sequestration process will be triggered in March, activating mandatory government-wide spending cuts.

This would “have a real and immediate impact on the FAA,” Porcari said at the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization World ATM Congress in Madrid.

He stresses that the FAA “won’t let [the cuts] affect safety,” so cost reductions would have to come from other areas. This would include “existing and upcoming contracts,” and personnel moves that would affect “the throughput and efficiency of the air traffic control system,” he says.

Porcari tells Aviation Week that the agency already is “being very careful with new hires” in anticipation of possible budget reductions. The agency also may consider furloughs or “other personnel action.”

The FAA is in discussions with employee unions about what sequestration could mean, and is “sharing as much information as we have” on the process, says Porcari.