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Partial FAA shutdown freezes U.S. aviation projects

By Hpanchal on July 25, 2011

Despite strong objections by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Congress failed to extend the agency’s authorities on July 22. Because H.R. 2553, which would have extended taxes on fuel, airline tickets and airfreight until September 17, wasn't passed, nearly 4,000 airline workers were furloughed and dozens of aviation projects were immobilized.

Numerous work orders have been distributed to halt construction on air traffic control towers and other projects around the U.S., FAA officials said.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood points to the far-reaching implications of this situation. “Construction workers across America will lose their jobs, and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on,” LaHood said in a statement. “Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage.” After all, he maintains, “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

It’s a viewpoint FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt shares. “Unless Congress acts quickly, more work on projects critical to our nation’s aviation system will come to a halt,” he asserted. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on — and this is just the beginning.”

Some projects that have been halted include multimillion-dollar initiatives to modernize air traffic control towers at the Las Vegas-based McCarran International Airport; New York-based LaGuardia Airport; Gulfport, Miss.-based Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport; Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Battle Creek International Airport and Calif.-based Palm Springs International Airport.

Moreover, FAA officials explain, abandoning these aviation projects will ultimately burden one key demographic: American taxpayers. Construction costs will increase, and people will be forced to pay the difference, they assert.

Also, FAA scientists, engineers, research analysts, computer specialists, administrative assistants, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners from 35 states, in addition to Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, are out of work.

And it’s this fact that has American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage outraged. “These workers have been thrown under the bus because of political infighting that has nothing to do with their jobs,” Gage said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that some lawmakers would put the flying public at risk just to score political points.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) has also expressed opposition to the FAA’s lapse in authorities. Speaking out on behalf of the economic and safety implications of this plight, AFA International President Veda Shook called the partial FAA shutdown “irresponsible and unnecessary.” What’s more, Shook said, “The necessary improvements for our airlines and the airports we rely upon will impact our ability to compete on a global scale.”

Whether any further actions are taken remains to be seen.

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