FAA furloughs could close Iowa airport control towers

Agency began distributing notices late Tuesday

Airport control towers in Dubuque, Sioux City and Waterloo could be closed as hundreds of Federal Aviation Administration employees are forced to take up to 11 days off without pay this spring and summer.

The furloughs have been ordered in response to $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts "sequester" triggered March 1 when Congress and the White House could not reach a bipartisan agreement on cutting $1.2 trillion from the deficit.

FAA positions in Cedar Rapids, Ankeny, Burlington, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Mason City and Sioux City would be affected by the furloughs. Furloughed employees will include air traffic controllers, national airspace system technicians, flight standards certifiers and several support staffers.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Tuesday said approved a request to implement a "save money" furlough of FAA employees for up to 11 days or 88 hours beginning on or about April 7 through Sept. 30.

"We anticipate each affected employee could be furloughed for approximately one day every two weeks starting in April," Huerta said. The agency began distributing the proposed furlough notices late Tuesday.

The airport control towers that may close have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations. The towers also have fewer than 10,000 commercial flight operations per year.

The FAA did not specify how long the control towers would remain closed, or if they would reopen after the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Notices were sent to a dozen workers in Waterloo and Dubuque, and 14 in Cedar Rapids, said Davon Ebert, representative for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, based in Waterloo.

"Please know that I sincerely regret the impact that even a single furlough day will have on you," Huerta wrote in an email to the 47,200 FAA employees. "We will continue to explore ways to reduce expenditures and minimize the number of total furlough days required across the agency to meet our budget requirements."

Huerta said the timing and delivery of the notices will vary depending on an employee's bargaining unit affiliation and specific collective bargaining agreements between the FAA and the union. The notice will outline procedures for reviewing and responding to the proposed furlough.

Huerta said the FAA, needing to reduce its budget by $637 million this fiscal year, also has instituted a hiring freeze and begun to cut contracts, travel and other items. The FAA also released a list of airports where it is considering eliminating overnight control tower shifts, but no Iowa airport is listed.

The across-the-board budget cuts also are expected to sidetrack installation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System by the FAA. Next Gen, which is supposed to be operational in 2018, will rely on satellites to more efficiently manage air travel, replacing an existing World War II era radar-based system.

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