WASHINGTON — Air traffic control towers at airports in Oklahoma City, Norman, Stillwater and other cities might have to shut down and overnight shifts might be eliminated at Will Rogers World Airport if federal spending cuts are triggered next week, the U.S. Transportation Department announced Friday.
Moreover, the vast majority of Federal Aviation Administration employees will be furloughed, including air traffic controllers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters at the White House. The FAA has about 5,000 direct government employees at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.
LaHood's warnings came amid increasing concern that the automatic cuts, known as the sequester, are going to kick in as scheduled on March 1.
LaHood said the furloughs to FAA employees likely would begin in April and cause long delays — up to 90 minutes during peak hours — at some major airports.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also has warned that Transportation Security Administration officers at airports could be furloughed, and airline passengers might have to wait longer for screening.
President Barack Obama, who was asked whether he thought the cuts could be averted, said Friday that “hope springs eternal.”
“I've also been very clear that there's an alternative, which is for us to take the kind of balanced approach that I've presented, where we have more strategic cuts on programs we don't need, and we close some tax loopholes that are taken advantage of only by the well-connected and the well-off,” the president said.
Congressional Republicans have said they would not consider additional revenue to replace the looming cuts, leaving the two sides at loggerheads a week before the deadline.
Republican leaders have emphasized that the House has twice passed legislation to redirect the cuts but that the Democratic-controlled Senate ignored those bills.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, said his White House appearance was intended to prod members of his party into negotiations with Democrats.
“Look, this is a big deal,” he said. “It's a big deal because a lot of people — common, ordinary citizens — fly. A lot of people use airports. And this is going to have a real impact.”
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AT A GLANCE
Oklahoma airports could be affected
The Transportation Department on Friday released a list of airports that
could be affected.
Possible tower closures
Airports where air traffic control towers could be closed:
of overnight shifts
Air traffic control towers
where overnight shifts could be eliminated: