Budget cuts could cripple Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

Air traffic that Von Hagel said could divert to the already busy Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where Lahood said FAA workers there, and around the country, would face a series of furlough days leaving passengers and pilots dealing with delays.
ATLANTA —

Automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect at March 1 could have a major impact on operations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson is set up to move lots and lots of planes, about 2,300 takeoffs and landings every day.

But unless Congress cuts a deal to avoid those across-the-board cuts, the numbers obtained by Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant show the effects could be crippling.

The precision efficiency that is Hartsfield-Jackson airport's air traffic control operation is on the brink of taking a very big hit.

"Everyone's very nervous," said Victor Santore with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Santore said millions of metro Atlanta passengers and business owners should be nervous, too.

"It's going to affect business travel. It's going to affect pleasure travel. It's going to affect freight in the area. It's everybody who flies and everyone who gets anything delivered to them by air is going to feel this quickly," Santore said.

The FAA's plan to cut costs includes rolling furloughs of a thousand Atlanta air traffic controllers as soon as April.

Santore and airport leaders said that could mean shutting down at least one runway.

"The margin of safety won't be reduced at Atlanta. The way we'll ensure the margin of safety is to work less airplanes," Santore said.

Right now, in good weather, controllers can land 126 planes per hour on three runways at Hartsfield. With two runways that number would drop to 96.

But in bad weather the current arrival rate of 92 planes per hour on three runways drops to just 68 per hour on two open runways.

And with long delays in store, air travel policy advocates in Washington are already weighing in.

"Our focus remains in telling Congress, telling the administration that an industry that is moving two million passengers a day and 50,000 tons of cargo should not be treated like a political football," said Sean Kennedy of Airlines for America.

If Congress misses the deadline, the furlough notices for all FAA controllers go out on Saturday, meaning the staffing cuts and flight delays could start here by April 7.

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