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Senate Panel Leaders Request Information From FAA On Sequester Impact

Rockefeller, Thune Want To Know How NextGen, Travelers Will Be Affected

Senate Commerce Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV) (pictured, left) and Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) (pictured, right) sent a letter Monday to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in response to the FAA’s announced furlough plan that could result in significant travel disruptions across the country. 

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on aviation safety last week where Administrator Huerta failed to provide detailed information to members of the Committee about the projected effects to the traveling public of furloughing 47,000 FAA employees. Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune reiterated their frustration regarding the Administration’s broad responses to past inquiries about implementation plans for the sequester, which have been slow and disturbingly limited.

In the letter, the Senators said that the FAA's plan to furlough air traffic controllers and close so many contract towers raises serious safety and operational issues. "The flying public deserves a fuller understanding of what kind of travel delays they may be facing as a result of the sequester in order to better plan if they have the wherewithal, desire, or ability to do so," they wrote.

"Many stakeholders argue that you have flexibility within your budget to avoid or minimize air traffic controller furloughs and the closure of the contract towers by cutting elsewhere and transferring funding among accounts," they wrote. The Senators asked a series of specific questions, including how much funding would be required to avoid the furloughs for the remainder of the fiscal year, and whether a comprehensive analysis has been done of the projected delays and flight cancellations throughout the system, including the number of passengers potentially affected by the furloughs.

The Senators also asked for a detailed accounting of all travel and conference expenditures to date from the beginning of the fiscal year in October, 2012, as well as the amount that has been cut from funding for NextGen research and implementation.

"We would appreciate an immediate response," the Senators wrote, "as your projections suggest major consequences for our air traffic system and air travelers, as well as potentially serious economic ramifications. We want to be able to work quickly on developing potential solutions as appropriate."

FMI: http://commerce.senate.gov

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