The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 24, 2013

Automatic cuts could hurt area air operations

Sequestration is becoming a four-letter word in these parts.

That’s the fancy word for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts facing all federal government agencies Friday unless Congress steps in to stop them. Lawmakers already have pushed the cuts back once, so we will have to see what happens this week.

But, if they do come about, officials with various agencies have outlined what could happen.

The latest came Friday with word from Federal Aviation Administration that it might close the control tower at Enid Woodring Regional Airport as part of an effort to cut $600 million in expenditures for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year.

The FAA plan calls for: furloughing the majority of the its 47,000 employees for one day per pay period; eliminating midnight shifts for air traffic controllers in more than 60 towers across the country; reducing preventive maintenance and equipment expenses; and closing more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with less than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year.

That last cut is what would affect the tower at Woodring, effectively closing the field to flights that require air traffic control.

That would have a major impact on Vance Air Force Base, which uses Woodring extensively. Landings, takeoffs and low approaches by T-6 and T-1 training aircraft from Vance account for about 17,000 operations a year — about half the airport’s total annual usage.

Vance could be affected in other ways, too.

For one, each of Vance’s 284 appropriated fund civilian employees would face 22 unpaid furlough days before the end of September.

Air Education and Training Command, of which Vance is a part, would halt advanced pilot and instructor training beginning April 1, with undergraduate flying training — which Vance does —cuts to follow in late August or early September.

These are just some of the worst-case scenarios being thrown out, obviously to shock people and let them know what could happen.

We remain hopeful lawmakers will come up with a solution, although we don’t hold out much hope for a long-term result. That’s going to require a lot more work than can be done in a week’s time.

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