Sequester Scaremongers Caught Red Handed on Air Controller Cuts

Sequester Scaremongers Caught Red Handed on Air Controller Cuts

By Paul Roderick Gregory - March 26, 2013

Get ready for delays at our nation’s airports, our sequester scaremongers warn. Forget about that summer vacation or even consider cancelling that Easter trip next weekend. But rest assured our valiant FAA is “working to ensure the safety of the traveling public and have the least impact possible on the largest number of people.” But the sequester law “leaves us with no other equitable option than to furlough our air-traffic controllers.”

Air traffic control, I guess, is nearing a crisis. The FAA has ordered all of its 47,000 employees (27,000 of which are air controllers) to take one day off per ten work days without pay. The FAA has even frozen the hiring of new traffic controllers. How in the world can our air traffic control system survive if air controllers are working ten percent fewer hours? 

I guess the sequester gives the FAA no choice to furlough instead for more hours its contracting specialists, writers and editors, audio visual producers, attorneys, and paralegals in place of the air controllers vital to public safety.

The facts do not paint a picture of impending chaos in the skies. Even with air controller furloughs, air controllers will be handling fewer flights per hour of work than six years ago. Moreover, we will need fewer air controllers in the future. The Bureau of Labor, in its occupational projections, advises young people against careers in air traffic control. It expects the number of ATC jobs to shrink with equipment upgrades and the declining number of flights.

Since 2006, the number of air controllers has held steady at 27,000 despite a thirteen percent decline in the number of flights. (The airlines have learned the art of cutting back flights and will continue to do so). Today’s air controller is handling 13 percent fewer flights than six years earlier. If the sequester cuts their hours by 10%, the sequestered flight controller will still handle 3 percent fewer flights than six years ago.

Presumably, the upgrading of ATC equipment and procedures over the past six years has increased the efficiency of air controllers. Handling three percent fewer flights with better equipment should be a piece of cake.

At sequester levels, our ATC system should be able to easily handle existing air traffic, if its administrators wanted it to so. Or are they not competent to use available resources efficiently? Voters should judge the administrative abilities of our federal administrators by how seamlessly they absorb cuts without inconvenience to the public. If they cannot, maybe it is time for them to go.

Two airline officials, who wouldn’t be named, outed the sequester scare mongers in interviews with the Wall Street Journal (Airlines Dispute Planned Air-Controller Cuts).

They maintain that the FAA is making fliers political pawns, as the Obama administration looks to use public backlash over flight delays to force Republicans into a budget deal.

The sequester scaremongers, by focusing attention on how our federal government is run, may in the end convince tax payers that we are paying too much for the limited services we get in return.

This would be the giant backfire of all time.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on March 25. It is reprinted with the permission of the Hoover Institution. 

Paul Roderick Gregory

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