BANGOR, Maine — The dire reports of the potential effects of congressionally mandated federal budget cuts may be rooted more in political bluster than reality.
That’s what the director of Portland International Jetport said as both he and Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso reacted to warnings of Federal Aviation Administration cutbacks including the elimination of midnight shifts for traffic controllers, personnel furloughs, and closure of less busy FAA air traffic control towers.
Bangor International Airport is on the list of 60 towers that could have their midnight shifts eliminated as a federal cost-cutting move, effective March 1. No other Maine airports appear on the list.
Caruso said it shouldn’t affect regular airport operations or flights, at least in the short term.
“I don’t believe so. Bangor airspace will be under the control of Boston Center and there are certainly many airports that already operate without a 24-hour FAA tower,” Caruso said. “And [commercial and private] pilots are accustomed to operating in and out of those airports.”
Caruso cited Portland, where the control tower is closed from 12:30 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. each day, as an example.
“Even then, there are still flights coming in and out [of the jetport] during those off hours,” said Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport.
“Moving forward we do have concerns, but I think there’s still a lot of political gamesmanship happening now,” said Bradbury. “There are no worries at least at this point.”
Both directors received copies of a statement put out by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Friday, which detailed possible changes that may be made if the White House and Congress can’t avoid $85 billion in federal cuts, also known as sequestration.
Caruso said the shifts would apply to FAA air traffic controllers only, not other FAA personnel providing services such as security, facility management and maintenance.
The FAA also released a list of 100 airports that could see their aircraft control facilities shuttered. No Maine airports appear on that list.
The agency drafted the lists with the aim of reducing expenses by $600 million for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year.
Regardless of whether the cuts go into effect March 1, both Caruso and Bradbury said safety will not be affected, short or long term.
“No. I don’t see this affecting safety at all,” Caruso said. “It will have an impact, but how much of an impact, we don’t know.
Bradbury said that there may be an effect if it becomes a long-term situation.
“Ultimately, if this leads to staffing reductions that increases our screening capacity, that could be a problem,” he said. “We certainly don’t want that to happen, especially after our most recent terminal expansion to better accommodate travelers more quickly and conveniently.”
Bradbury said the jetport recently finished a $75 million renovation and improvement project for the base building terminal, bringing to $163 million the amount of money invested in jetport improvements over the last five years, with another $10 million planned over the next five years.
A majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees also could face a one-day unpaid furlough through the end of September, according to the letter from LaHood.
“We are aware that these service reductions will adversely affect commercial, corporate and general aviation operations,” LaHood said. “We also expect that as airlines estimate the potential impacts of these furloughs, they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”
“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff,” the secretary added.