Federal budget cuts could lead to flight delays and more at Hancock

If automatic spending cuts go into effect on Friday, your next flight out of Hancock Airport could be delayed.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking at possibly eliminating overnight shifts at the air traffic control tower at Hancock and furloughs for tens of thousands of workers. Those are just some of the potential problems that could come from the cuts as the FAA prepares to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The FAA is also looking at a furlough of the vast majority of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees including all management and non-management employees working with the Air Traffic Organization. The furlough would be for about one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September, with a maximum of two days per pay period. Other changes the FAA is considering is eliminating midnight shifts in more than 60 towers across the country, including at Hancock Airport.

This could also lead to the closure of more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year. This includes air traffic control facilities at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport in Ithaca and Griffiss International in Rome.

Both the furloughs and the facility shut-downs would begin in April. The FAA is also looking at reducing preventative maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for all NAS equipment.

This could all lead to delays for travelers. Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could see delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because of fewer controllers on staff. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator issued a letter Friday which said in part, "We are aware that these service reductions will adversely affect commercial, corporate and general aviation operations. We also expect that as airlines estimate the potential impacts of these furloughs, they will change their schedules and cancel flights."

Travelers at Hancock International Airport are frustrated with their elected officials. Bob Sonia of Waterville says he's frustrated with all branches of the government.

"They're holding us hostage as citizens of the country. It's unfortunate but in my 64 years I just feel like the government is letting us down," says Sonia.

Bill Eaton who traveled to Syracuse Monday from Fayetteville, Arkansas says it's a sign of the times.

"I think it's just indicative of how basically inept and unresponsive the legislative branch of our country is right now," says Eaton.

Margery Pask of Ithaca says it's turned into a game of chicken.

"It's a game of chicken and they're playing with their lives. I don't know what should be done. I feel so bad about it that our government has been taken over by all these different interests," says Pask.

Aviation safety employees are also expected to be impacted by furloughs, which will affect airlines, aviation manufacturers and pilots. "While the Agency will continue to address safety risks that could impact operations of the national airspace system, a slowed certification and approval process, due to furloughs, could negatively affect passengers and all segments of the aviation industry," the letter said.

Airlines are only one area you would feel the impact of the impending cuts. Along with widespread flight delays and shuttered airports, off-limit seashores and unprotected parks would also be affected. Those are just part of the grim picture emerging from the White House ahead of automatic federal spending cuts which are scheduled to go into effect on Friday.

The Obama administration is painting a dire portrait of the many ways the public will feel the effects of the cuts as it counts down the days until the government is forced to trim $85 billion in domestic and defense spending with hardly any leeway to save some programs from the budget knife.

In detailing the costs of the cuts, President Barack Obama is seeking to raise the public's awareness while also applying pressure on congressional Republicans who oppose his blend of targeted savings and tax increases to tackle federal deficits.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.