The is facing considerable uncertainty, with the U.S. government headed toward a possible partial shutdown Oct. 1 and sequestration levels of funding likely to remain in place even if a shutdown is avoided.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” FAA’s deputy associate administrator-airports Kate Lang said Sept. 24 at the annual Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) Conference and Exhibition in San Jose, Calif. “I have no idea whether we’ll be at work on Oct. 1 . . . Frankly, nobody knows.”
The federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and it remains an open question whether a divided Congress will approve spending authority for Oct. 1 and beyond. Even if a shutdown can be avoided, FAA’s budget for the new fiscal year is expected to be around $700 million below what was planned prior to budget sequestration cuts, which started to take effect earlier this year.
Air traffic controllers would be considered “essential” personnel in the event of a partial government shutdown, so while many agency employees could face furloughs if Congress fails to act before Oct. 1, air traffic in the U.S. is not expected to be affected. However, Congress’s legislative “fix” passed in April to end the controller furloughs—and flight delays—brought on by sequestration is only valid through Sept. 30.
It is unlikely that controller furloughs would begin again during the early part of the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. But if sequestration levels of funding remain in place—as is widely expected—at some point during the fiscal year the FAA will have to make up the difference between its planned budget and its sequestration budget, raising the prospect of controller furloughs and flight delays all over again.
Airports and their advocates have been highly critical of Congress for moving $253 million from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in April to halt the flight delays that resulted from the controller furloughs, and have warned lawmakers that doing so again would delay needed airport rehabilitation and expansion projects.
Lang said that the projects delayed owing to Congress taking money from the AIP were “mostly rehabs on taxiways and runways [that were] ready to go, but we didn’t have the money.”
She warned that the “pressure is just going to mount” on FAA if sequestration remains in place long-term. “I’ve never seen quite the uncertainty we’re seeing right now,” Lang said. “It’s a very hard way to do business.”