Airports, contractors cringe as tower closures loom in FAA cuts - FOX 35 News Orlando

Airports, contractors cringe as tower closures loom amid FAA cuts

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KMSP) -

On the second day of the FAA furloughs, the mandatory budget cuts were already causing problems for airlines, airports and travelers -- but even smaller airports are bracing for other big cuts.

Michael Janes is a former Marine, and he uses that training as a contract employee in the control tower at the St. Cloud Regional Airport -- at least for now.

Janes told FOX 9 News he is frustrated because, despite overseeing some of the 40,000 take-offs and landings at the airport each year, he'll soon be out of a job thanks to the sequester.

The Federal Aviation Administration says budget cuts are forcing them to close Janes' tower and 140 others by June 15th. That means instead of being directed by air traffic controllers, pilots in the St. Cloud airspace will have to rely on communicating with one another. Janes compares the switch to changing from a traffic light to stop signs.

"It can be done, but it's kind of a hassle," Janes told FOX 9 News. "If someone is not paying attention, it could be catastrophic -- not saying it's going to be."

Meanwhile, 47,000 FAA employees -- including air traffic controllers -- are being forced to stay home one day every other week because of furloughs. Some flights out of New York, Baltimore and Washington saw delays stretch over two hours on Monday. So far Twin Cities International Airport is in the clear.

"We haven't seen anything different then we would normally see, so there is no way to quantify if that is an impact or not," said Melissa Scovronki, a spokeswoman for the airport.

Critics call the furloughs a stunt.

"We believe that the FAA has the discretion not to furlough the air traffic controllers. They keep the planes in the air, get them to the ground, and keep travelers moving, keep shipping moving, and that's critical to our economy," said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

During White House briefings Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "Furloughs cannot be avoided. Seventy percent of the FAA's operations budget is personnel. The FAA must furlough 47,000 employees for up to 11 days between now and the end of the fiscal year."

Bob Hajek is a licensed commercial pilot and former flight instructor based out of the Twin Cities. He believes additional hassle at larger airports is far outweighed by the potential hazards of losing a control tower staff completely.

"It's a real danger, not a potential danger," said Hajek. "In St. Cloud, there are student pilots. There is a very large difference between the type of aircraft and the training capabilities of the pilots there. It would be like taking a go-cart and putting it on 494 at rush hour with no stop lights "

Janes said he can only hope those in Washington get it figured out fast.

"It's way out of my pay grade to decide where the money gets cut," said Janes. "I was kind of, you know, more-or-less joking saying if it's a 5 percent across-the-board pay cut they are worried about, please -- take my 5 percent. You go ahead and have my 5 percent and I'll keep my job any day."

The cuts are part of an attempt to trim $637 million from the FAAs budget by the end of September; however, there are bills in both houses of Congress -- and an ongoing lawsuit -- that could change things.

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