FAA Air Traffice Controller Furloughs Begin April 21

Executive Summary:Furloughs of FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) staff will begin this Sunday, April 21, 2013 as FAA further implements budget cuts caused by sequestration. FAA has communicated to ACI-NA and other industry groups that the agency has taken an across-the-board approach to accomplishing the mandated furloughs resulting in every FAA ATO employee being required to reduce one shift per pay period, essentially a 10% cut in staffing levels.

ACI-NA issued this press release regarding the furloughs today.

Capacity and delay analyses conducted by FAA ATO indicate that these staffing cuts could cause disruptions to the National Airspace System (NAS) including flight delays, particularly during periods of inclement weather and/or decreased staffing levels due to illness and vacations.

To manage potential delays and system disruptions associated with the furloughs, we advise all airports to review their irregular operations plans and be prepared to implement them in the event of significant airline cancellations or delays. We also encourage all member airports to stay in close coordination with your airline representatives, local air traffic officials and other partners such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) throughout next week as furloughs are implemented.

Issue:Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the federal government has had to make across-the-board budget cuts to federal programs. As mentioned in our prior communications, FAA—with one of the largest non-defense operations budgets in the government—has been forced by the Act to make significant cuts to key air traffic control functions. These include furloughs of FAA air traffic controllers, the closure of 149 contract towers, and reductions in navigational aid maintenance and restoration activities.

This memo deals specifically with air traffic controller furloughs, which will take effect on April 21, 2013. Absent Congressional or Administration intervention, these furloughs are expected to last through September 30, 2013.

Briefings provided by the FAA regarding the impact these furloughs will have on airport capacity indicate that airline delays could regularly exceed those experienced on the worst delay days in recent memory. As many of you know, the effects of Ground Delay Programs (GDPs) instituted at many of the large hub airports can have a ripple effect throughout the entire NAS and, in kind, cause long on-board delays at many of the medium, small and non-hub airports.  It is crucial that airports review their irregular operations plans as well as brief their staff on the increased potential for extended tarmac delays (e.g., ground delays exceeding 3 hours for domestic flights and 4 hours for international flights).

The airlines have not yet announced their response to FAA's estimates. It is possible that airlines could cancel flights; particularly where staffing shortages already exist and when poor weather occurs. Given that airlines are operating with very high load factors already—meaning most of their seats are filled—disrupted passengers could face extended periods before being able to be reaccommodated on other flights.

Who is Impacted: All airports in the United States and Canada with U.S. flights are likely to experience impacts starting on Sunday, April 21. These impacts will vary depending on current air traffic facility staffing levels, airport configurations, and your airport's flight schedules. FAA's analyses indicates that thirteen airports may be particularly hard hit—EWR, JFK, LGA, FLL, LAX, SAN, ATL, CLT, MDW, MIA, PHL, and SFO.

Airports "upstream" of these affected airports could see increased ground delays and an increased risk of extended tarmac delays. All commercial service airports may experience additional levels of delays or cancellations. Also, airports may experience an increased level of diversions as the NAS capacity becomes further constrained.

What is ACI-NA Doing?: ACI-NA is working with FAA ATO to obtain detailed and reliable information about impacts of the furloughs to airports and to communicate this information to the airports quickly. ACI-NA is partnering with other industry groups, including the airlines, to ensure operational collaboration continues and communication from the industry is clear. ACI-NA will work with our member airports to support them as they work to accommodate passengers inconvenienced by these excessive delays.

Similar to major weather events, ACI-NA will also be actively participating in planned strategic planning teleconferences with the FAA Air Traffic System Command Center starting this weekend and providing airport members with pertinent updates from those calls. We will provide more information about these activities in a subsequent e-mail.

On the political front, ACI-NA Government Affairs has reached out to key Congressional staff expressing airport concerns about the impact of the furloughs and sequestration. Over the next few days we will stay in close contact with Congress to keep them updated on the impacts at airports.  In addition, we continue to urge the House and Senate to come to a compromise to end the sequester.

Finally, we have developed discussion points  that airport operators can use in their discussions with the media or their communities on this issue.

Needed Airport Action:

  • Review your irregular operations plans and monitor traffic and activity in the event these plans need to be implemented beginning Sunday, April 21, 2013.
  • Review your plans to assist airlines in deplaning passengers off aircraft experiencing lengthy off-gate delays and communicate with other airport partners including airlines, third-party service providers and the TSA and CBP about this possible scenario.
  • Prepare terminal services such as concessions, volunteer programs and public safety personnel for the possibility of passengers experiencing lengthy delays.
  • Monitor landside operations for curbside, parking and cell phone lot congestion.

ACI-NA Contacts:   Chris Oswald coswald@aci-na.org and Matt Griffin mgriffin@aci-na.org