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ALPA, A4A And RAA File Lawsuit Over Air Traffic Controller Furloughs
By Mike Mitchell

April 20, 2013 – Airlines for America (A4A), Air Line Pilots Association, (ALPA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA), on Friday filed legal action to prevent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from furloughing air traffic controllers and from implementing widespread ground stops that the agency reported would cause delays of up to four hours at major hub airports, impact up to 6,700 flights a day and affect one out of every three passengers. 

The motion filed in the U.S. Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking a stay to halt the FAA’s Capacity Reduction Plan. In addition to the legal action the group is seeking legislation that would deem air traffic controllers essential and therefore not subject to furlough, as they have historically been treated and that the Administration delay furloughs for 30 days to allow time to address the issue legislatively.

The FAA recently delayed its decision to close contract towers by more than two months after being sued by several communities scheduled to have their airport tower closed. It should do no less for the national airspace system.

A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said the association has been asking the FAA for months for specifics about how it plans to implement furloughs of air traffic controllers to meet its required sequestration 10 percent budget reduction. In a meeting with association and airline representatives just this week, the FAA indicated it plans to furlough air traffic controllers at facilities across the board on April 21. It also indicated it will institute automatic ground stops that same day without regard to conditions, which will cause delays systemwide. The FAA provided no specifics to airlines, but did indicate some airports may see a reduction in flight arrivals of 40 percent. 

“The math simply does not work, and it is irresponsible to suggest that a 10 percent reduction of air traffic control hours should mean 40 percent fewer flights can arrive on time,” Calio said. “It’s unjust, unnecessary and completely irresponsible.” 



Calio noted that A4A obtained third-party legal opinions that also confirmed that the FAA has greater discretion in how it implements cuts and further noted that when the FAA shut down for two weeks in 2011, it was able to do so without furloughing any air traffic controllers. No flights were canceled or delayed as a result of the FAA shutdown. 

“Air traffic controllers have never been furloughed, regardless of any budget cuts, and there is a reason for that—they are critical to maintain the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System,” Calio said. “We continue to believe that the FAA has other means to reach a 10 percent budget reduction than to impact the traveling public. When a company needs to make a 10 percent budget reduction, the answer is not to make it is so inefficient that no one wants to do business with it anymore. That’s essentially what the FAA is proposing, and in doing so harming the 2 million passengers and shippers that fund two-thirds of its budget.” 

Calio noted that other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration made cuts without furloughing frontline employees. “Air travel is vital to our economy and to jobs, and it is the FAA’s mission to ensure we have the safest most efficient system possible,” Calio said. “This plan flies in the face of that mission, and if the FAA’s projections are accurate, it will needlessly inconvenience passengers and shippers, hurt our economy, jobs and our industry.” 

Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l, said “together with A4A and the RAA, we call on the administration and Congress to work together to provide the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the funding flexibility it needs to ensure that essential aviation services are maintained during sequestration and that front-line safety personnel are not affected by these budget cuts. 

“This is a unique situation. Our entire aviation system will struggle to maintain normality due to furloughs of these essential workers. The economic viability of our country depends on this mode of transportation; everyone will be affected.” The groups are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the agencies’ Capacity Reduction Plan for sequestration and to authorize issue of an emergency stay to prevent implementation of that plan pending the court’s review.

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