Looming federal budget cuts could affect air travel

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Closing the air traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe is included in $600 million worth of possible cuts announced today by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The potential reductions come in response to the looming sequester, the $85 billion in spending cuts that will go into effect if Congress and President Barack Obama don't agree on a budget by March 1.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that the FAA would close more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 overall flights or 10,000 commercial flights a year. The tower at Arnold Palmer could close by April.

"We know that there's a possibility, and we're going to play it by ear and see what happens," said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. "We're hoping that it doesn't happen, but if it does, we'll make our decisions based on safety."

If the cuts go through, flights approaching Arnold Palmer could be monitored by the tower at John Murtha Johnstown--Cambria County Airport.

A "large percentage" of airports use only this "approach" control, Mr. Monzo said.

A spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, which operates flights from Arnold Palmer to Myrtle Beach, S.C., Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Dallas, said it was too early to know what, if any, impact the cuts would have on its operation.

Spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the airline is "analyzing a variety of possible scenarios" to determine how best to accommodate customers should the cuts take effect and disrupt service.

The control tower reductions would also eliminate overnight hours at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.

Mr. LaHood also said the cuts could furlough "the vast majority" of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees for about a day per pay period until September, with a maximum of two days per pay period.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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