FAA must furlough thousands because of Congress, but air fares could dip a little
The FAA will be forced to furlough almost 4,000 employees starting Friday at midnight as its federal funding runs out. Congress could not agree on a measure that would provide funds to the agency.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that although "the safety of the flying public will not be compromised" because air traffic controllers and other essential employees will remain on the job, thousands of other jobs will be affected because of the politics on Capitol Hill.
"Because of their inaction, states and airports won't be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck," LaHood said in a statement. "This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world."
Each sides of Congress is pointing fingers at the other.
“It is unbelievable that after the House passed the 21st FAA extension, the Senate departed Washington and left the FAA and many of its employees behind,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, a Republican from Florida, said in a news release.
That was countered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who fired off his own statement blaming the House.
Sen. Dick Durbin also blamed House Republicans.
"We’re going to lay off 4,000 people at midnight tonight. Do you think that means anything to them?" the Illinois senator asked on the floor of the Senate. "What I offered was a clean extension that didn’t get into the merits of this, which said let’s put this big debate aside and that debate aside and keep the agency working, the federal aviation administration. [Sen. Hatch] said, ‘No, you either take the Republican approach or else.’"
Durbin continued: "And incidentally, he told you at the outset, the House Republicans have gone home. They’re gone. They sent this over and said, ‘Take it or leave it or close it down.’ That’s not a very sound choice for our country."
If there is a silver lining, it's that the FAA will be forced to stop collecting about $200 million a week in air travel fees and taxes until the extension is passed. That means if airlines do not take advantage of this rare window by jacking up rates, travelers could save about 10% off a $300 round-trip ticket, the Associated Press reported.
-- Tony Pierce
Photo: An air traffic controller monitors flights while working in the Terminal Radar Approach Control center at Denver International Airport. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images