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  • Casablanca And Controller Furloughs
    Posted by Andrew Compart 3:17 PM on Apr 26, 2013

    There is a famous scene in the movie classic Casablanca in which Capt. Louis Renault, the corrupt police chief, is ordered to close down Rick's club. Here's how the scene goes down.

    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

    Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

    Employee of Rick's[hands Renault money] Your winnings, sir.

    Renault: Oh, thank you, very much. Everybody out at once!

    Renault's feigned ignorance about the goings-on at the club came to mind this week because Republicans in Congress and Airlines for America, the largest trade group for U.S. airlines, were claiming to have been surprised and blindsided by the FAA's decision to furlough controllers and the impact that would have on flight delays at airports. But it is difficult to see how that could be true.

    On Feb. 22--two months ago--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined the White House Press Briefing to warn about the consequences of the sequester on the FAA. Here is just a sampling of his quotes:

    --"As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year, and in some cases it could be as many as two days."

    -- "Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff.  Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country."

    -- "We’re going to reduce the number of controllers, which will reduce their ability to guide planes in and out of airports."

    -- "What I’m trying to do is to wake up members of the Congress on the Republican side to the idea that they need to come to the table, offer a proposal so that we don't have to have this kind of calamity in the air service in America."

    LaHood, however, was not the only person issuing warnings. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association issued a paper on the potential impact of the sequester in December. In a February "sequestration update" that was accompanied by an airport-by-airport analyst, NATCA got even more specific: 

    -- "Furloughs could force Atlanta to close one runway, reducing  its hourly arrival rate during clear-weather conditions from 126 arrivals per hour to 96 arrivals per hour, a 24 percent reduction. In both Chicago and Houston, under ideal weather conditions and using two runways instead of three, the hourly arrival rate could fall by 37 percent. Other major airports would experience similar reductions. Taken together, these reductions will add up to a national airspace facing significant delays throughout the system."

    NATCA estimated the impact on individual airports, complete with predictions on how much the hourly flight arrival rate for each airport could decline. You can still find the predictions here.

    Given all of that, it is difficult to see how anyone could argue that the actual implementation of the furloughs, and their effect, would be a shock. More likely is the explanation given by Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, when asked why the industry and its largest trade group would be surprised. The airlines and A4A did not think the FAA would actually go through with it, Calio said at a press briefing held on April 19, two days before the furloughs began, to announce the lawsuit the A4A, Regional Airline Association and Air Line Pilots Association filed to try to stop it.

    "Because of their importance to the system, we thought the controllers should be left alone, we hoped they would be left alone, and we believed at the end of the day the FAA would find a different way to institute or to meet its targets," Calio said.

    The FAA did not, perhaps because of this. I am shocked--shocked, I tell you.

    Tags: tw99, furloughs, A4A, FAA, LaHood, Republicans

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