WASHINGTON (AP) — Automatic spending cuts could force some of the nation's busiest airports to close runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations, the union representing air traffic controllers said Wednesday.
The spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect on Friday, but furloughs of air traffic controllers won't kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice. That will delay most of the impact of the spending cuts on air travel for at least a month.
Significant furloughs would leave too few controllers to handle planes at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, for example, forcing the closure of one of its three runways, said the report by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Instead of 126 landings per hour, there would be only 96 landings, the report said. Hartsfield handles more passengers than any other airport in the world. Houston's Intercontinental and Chicago's O'Hare airports may also have to close runways, it said.
"What Congress and everybody needs to understand is that the world's busiest airport runs like a Swiss watch," said Victor Santore, the union's Southern regional vice president. "If you slow down the arrival rate, the national airspace system will most certainly suffer. It takes hours to recover at Hartsfield."
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