Actor Harrison Ford–an accomplished pilot–has joined the criticism against the FAA’s plan to close 149 air-traffic control towers around the country. The cause of the control tower closings is that the agency’s budget has been hit by automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. The ramifications of the FAA’s plan could reach a lot further than the lawsuits that have already been filed and the 10% reduction in control-tower staffing that starts April 21st at some of the busiest airports in the US.
According to Reuters, FAA chief Michael Huerta said, “if sequestration means fewer flights can be safely accommodated in the (national air space), then there will be fewer flights.” More recently, Huerta clarified this and said, “if we have reduced controller hours, what we would expect to see is during peak periods a reduction of arrival rates,” after speaking to the Senate during a hearing. The planned closures of the air-traffic control towers are set to begin June 15th.
Harrison Ford is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has 400,000 members, and he flies his own single-engine planes and a twin engine jet, according to Bloomberg. Ford said, “General aviation is more than guys in corporate aircraft. It’s police and fire services. It’s EMS. It’s a guy flying his fish to market. It’s tractor parts getting to a rancher or a farmer. It’s a broad range of businesses that are affected.”
Ford also flies helicopters and has rescued hikers during search and rescue operations, as reported by ABC News. Ford has spoken at AOPA events from time-to-time and was the spokesman for AOPA’s “General Aviation Serves America” campaign. The Center for Responsible Politics estimates that AOPA has contributed $8.4 million to politicians and political parties between 1989 and 2012, making it one of the largest political donors in Washington.
Airlines for America–which represents major US airline companies–and the Regional Airline Association have filed a lawsuit against the FAA’s planned furloughs to cut control-tower staffing. According to Bloomberg, the lawsuit says “The capacity reduction plan requires a blanket 10 percent cut in hours across the board, with no consideration of the impacts on the traveling public or the air transportation.” The furloughs are expected to save $200 million this fiscal year, which ends in September. This fiscal year the FAA has to cut $637 million from its budget of almost $16 billion because of the sequestration.