Sequester Cuts – How Would They Affect Lafayette Regional And Lake Charles Regional Airports
The sequester is now only three days away. The White House has laid out a breakdown of how the cuts will hit the national and state levels. Areas such as health care, education, pollution, public safety, jobs and the military are addressed, but what about air travel - specifically here in Acadiana and throughout Louisiana.
The Federal Aviation Administration would have a funding cut of over $600 million if the sequester cuts went through. A lot of employees would be furloughed, including air traffic controllers and technicians, slowing up air traffic across the country. There is the possibility that some airports may have to close air traffic control facilities if these cuts kick in.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has named 200 sites it would consider closing. On the government's list: Lake Charles Regional and Chennault International in Lake Charles, Monroe Regional, Lakefront in New Orleans and Shreveport Downtown. The good news: Lafayette Regional Airport was not on the list.
Lake Charles Regional Executive Director Heath Allen was disappointed to see Lake Charles on the list, citing their "tremendous amount of helicopter traffic in addition to our commercial traffic" and their ability to serve the offshore industry:
Very disappointing. I think everybody knows that the federal government has to fix its spending, however, I'm not sure that this is the appropriate way to go about it.
So, would this force Lake Charles Regional to close? Allen says he doesn't think so, "however, air traffic control...is a critical component to safety and efficiency" of air transportation systems.
Allen says if this happened, the Federal Aviation Administration would no longer operate the tower. He notes a costly remedy would be for each airport to contract out air traffic control operations. He says otherwise the airport would be uncontrolled:
It can be done, but during the day, as I mentioned, it would make things very, very challenging, especially considering all the helicopter traffic that we have. We're a major helicopter base...serving the offshore industry.
While Lafayette Regional is not on the possible closure list, that doesn't mean the local airport won't be affected. These national cuts would definitely make their effects known to the Lafayette airport.
While Robert Callahan, spokesperson for the Lafayette Regional Airport, says "it's hard to say" how LRA employees would be hit from a numbers standpoint if these cuts go through, he did mention how the airport would be indirectly hit as a result of them.
The sequester cuts would affect Transportation Safety Agents, lengthening the wait times at airport security checkpoints. According to airline officials, these wait times could increase by 30-50%, at peak times lasting up to four hours.
These cuts would hit a lot of major airports across the country, affecting Lafayette Regional in that the airport connects to hubs in Dallas, Atlanta, and other nationally known cities. Callahan says:
It's all interconnected. If planes are delayed in Chicago or LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), it's a trickle down effect all the way down to Lafayette.