Thursday, September 16, 2004

 

It's All About Priorities

The Associated Press has this story....

White House Wants to Cut FAA Budget

Thu Sep 16, 6:18 PM ET

By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants to trim the Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites)'s budget for buying new air traffic control equipment at a time when more planes are in the air.

Air traffic controllers argue that more backup equipment could have mitigated the shutdown of a radio system at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday that left controllers unable to talk to pilots and caused a ripple effect of delays across the country.

Controllers have been asking the FAA (news - web sites) for another backup radio system for years, said Hamid Ghaffari, president of the local air traffic controllers union in Los Angeles.

"The response was, 'We don't have the funding,'" Ghaffari said.

The loss of voice contact with pilots caused at least five incidents where planes flew dangerously close to each other and delayed or canceled hundreds of flights.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the Los Angeles air traffic control center already has two backup systems.

Sept. 2 was the busiest day ever for the U.S. air traffic control system. The FAA forecasts a 24 percent increase in the number of planes in the sky — including passenger and cargo planes, general aviation and military aircraft — between this year and 2015.

But the administration has proposed cutting next year's FAA budget for equipment and facilities by 12.6 percent, from $2.862 billion to $2.5 billion. Both the House and the Senate have gone along with that figure so far in the budget process.

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Air traffic controllers fear if Congress goes along with the cut it will force them to work with outdated equipment longer and prevent new backup systems from being installed.

Tom Brantley, president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists union, said the systems that keep track of the planes in the centers between airport towers will soon reach their capacity.

"Cutting the budget by almost 14 percent is insane," said Brantley, who represents the people who maintain air traffic control equipment. "Seventy percent of the systems out there are in need of upgrade or replacement."

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