Officials say cuts would have big impact at 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 - The federal government is just days away from automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that will have a major impact on metro Atlanta.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spoke with leaders at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport where passengers would feel the fallout in a big way.

Airport manager Louis Miller is weighing what he admits are very few options if Congress can't hammer out a deal before the so-called sequestration kicks in on Friday.

"Maybe the worst-case scenario is we have to close one of our runways," Miller told Diamant on Monday afternoon.

The closure would be the most significant fallout from the FAA's plan to systematically furlough tens of thousands of workers, including hundreds who staff the Atlanta airport's air traffic control tower.

Miller said closing one of the airport's five runways means arriving and departing planes would start to stack up in the air and on the ground, especially at peak times, leading to long delays for passengers.

"We're concerned about that," Miller said. "We're working with the FAA to find out exactly how they're going to work with that."

Airport leaders are also working with the TSA, since hundreds of checkpoint workers at Hartsfield-Jackson face furloughs as well.

"We could find ourselves stuck here with 25-, 30-, 40-minute wait times," Miller warned. "That's not what we want."

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Miller said TSA leaders told him their plan is to shift workers out of training and onto checkpoints to keep up with the crowds, leaving passengers concerned.

"Is the TSA going to be as effective as they are today?" wondered passenger Randy Smith. "Do we have to worry about who's on the plane, you know, those sort of things?"

On Monday morning, United States Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano held a news conference in Washington, DC.

"Put simply, the automatic budget reduction mandated by sequestration would be disruptive and destructive to our nation's security," Napolitano said.

Napolitano told reporters that sequestration would also mean furloughs for Customs and Border Patrol agents, which Miller said would mean long lines and big delays for passengers trying to clear customs at Hartsfield-Jackson.

If a deal isn't reached by Friday, the FAA and TSA said staffing cuts at Hartsfield-Jackson could begin as soon as April.