Bay City News Service
The air traffic control tower at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord is one of many locally and nationally that could be affected by the looming federal budget sequestration, officials say.
With a possible federal budget sequestration due to hit March 1, the Federal Aviation Administration could close several Bay Area air traffic control towers and flights into major airports like San Francisco's could face delays of up to 90 minutes.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta issued a letter to aviation officials on Friday warning of the possible reductions as Congress decides whether to avoid the automatic spending cuts. The sequestration is based on legislation passed last year that said if no compromise were reached by the congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, then $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts will take place over the next decade.
The letter by LaHood and Huerta said those cuts would have a drastic effect on air travel, including the possible closing of more than 100 air traffic control towers nationally and elimination of overnight shifts at more than 60 others.
The proposed cuts could also mean one furlough day per pay period for the FAA's 47,000 employees, according to the officials. Local air traffic control towers that could be closed include the ones at airports in Concord, Napa, Santa Rosa, Livermore, San Carlos and Salinas.
The shutdowns would begin as soon as April, according to the letter, which said the reduction in air traffic controllers on staff would mean delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours at airports in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other major cities.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, denounced Congressional Republicans for not yet agreeing to a solution to stave off these potential cuts.
"These political games being played by the House Majority in Washington are costing real people their jobs here at home and unnecessarily putting people's safety at risk," Thompson said in a statement.
He said both the Napa and Santa Rosa airports would be forced to furlough or lay off a number of employees if those air traffic control towers close, even temporarily. Thompson added that planes in both airports would be operating in uncontrolled airspace, while nearly all flights there currently are during controlled air times.
"Instead of this manufactured crisis, we need a balanced, bold plan that creates jobs, cuts spending, reforms our tax code so that everyone is paying their fair share and protects Social Security and Medicare. That's what I'm working for," he said.
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This story originated on Livermore Patch.