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Sequester could cause Atlanta, Chicago runways to close

With the sequester looming, the automatic budget cuts for Federal Aviation Administration air-traffic controllers could cause runways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to close, according to the FAA.

“It’s just a matter of working with the FAA to try to see how they can manage their staff, but in our mind, that’s the worst case scenario,” said Louis Miller, aviation general manager for Hartsfield-Jackson.

If the sequester takes effect, the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for one day per pay period, or one eight-hour day for every 80 hours.

That amounts to a 10 percent reduction in staff, Miller said. He said one of the options being discussed is to close down one of the airport’s five runways during peak times.

“What we have done is figured out, ‘Well, what could that do to us?’” he said. “If we had to go from five to four runways, that could have an impact on our arrivals and departures during peak hours, which spreads out and impacts not only Hartsfield-Jackson but the airports that they’re going to.”

That could cause arrival and departure delays of 15 to 20 minutes for both cargo and passengers. But because most cargo flies at night when it isn’t as busy, the effects will not be as overwhelming, Miller said.

“Hopefully, we can keep the cargo moving as quickly as possible as well, but it could be similar delays if it happens during the daytime,” he said.

Major consequences wouldn’t hit the airport until April – which is when furloughs would begin – so Miller said he hopes that the economic situation is worked out within two to three weeks.

“It’s just going to be devastating for the industry,” he said.