Photo: Flickr / Kecko
With less than 36 hours to go, automatic budget cuts look like they will hit every level of the federal government, and while politicians and labour leaders are predicting everything short of apocalypse, it’s probably not going to be as bad as some predict for air traffic controllers.”FAA officials have told us that furloughs and tower closures are necessary to achieve the cuts mandated by the law,” Paul Rinaldi, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, recently told the Aero Club of Washington. “We want the Congress and the public to understand that these furloughs and tower closures will potentially have extremely negative effects on our nation’s air traffic control system and economy.”
According to the NATCA, the effects of a $627 million budget cut would include losing over 100 air traffic controller towers at airports with minimal flight traffic, furloughing FAA employees for at least one, and possibly two days per pay period, and reducing some preventative maintenance.
But there’s actually a precedent for air traffic controller cuts that the U.S. has already seen, and it was way worse than anything sequestration would do.
As Politico notes, President Ronald Reagan fired over 11,000 air traffic controllers on Aug. 5, 1981 for participating in an illegal strike and refusing to return to work. Reagan steadfastly refused to rehire the strikers, instructing the Federal Aviation Administration to begin rebuilding the federal air-control staff from a core of about 5,000 nonstriking controllers, supplemented by supervisors and military personnel.
While plenty of flights were canceled in the short term, the FAA contingency plans worked, with some 3,000 supervisors joining 2,000 nonstriking controllers and 900 military controllers in manning airport towers. Before long, about 80 per cent of flights were operating normally, and air freight remained virtually unaffected, according to Politico.
There are currently 27,000 air traffic controllers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of labour Statistics. But sequestration doesn’t even mean controllers are getting fired.
They may get one or two unpaid days off per pay period as a result. Ironically, in 1981, one of the demands of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers organisation was a four-day workweek (along with a pay increase), according to The Nation.
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