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Dr. Coburn Criticizes the FAA's Decision to Furlough Air Traffic Controllers Instead of Making Smart Cuts

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement today regarding the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to begin furloughs of air traffic controllers.

"The FAA's decision is a dangerous political stunt that could jeopardize the safety and security of air travelers. Contrary to Secretary LaHood's public statements, the FAA has no way to ensure it can limit the consequences of furloughs to flight delays. Even if flight delays are the worst outcome, it is unconscionable for the administration to deliberately inconvenience air travelers because they refuse to believe we can live within our means," Dr. Coburn said.

"The FAA has made zero effort to avoid furloughs," Dr. Coburn added. "They have failed to ask for greater authority to reprogram funds, and they have failed to make smart cuts that have been spelled out to them. For instance, instead of curtailing subsidies for "Airports to Nowhere' that serve fewer than 10 passengers a day, the FAA is choosing to collectively punish the American people through furloughs. As a result, air travelers across America are about to pay the price for the FAA's incompetence and unwillingness to challenge a political edict from the administration to exaggerate the effects of sequestration."

Dr. Coburn sent the following letter to Secretary LaHood on March 6, 2013 that detailed ways the FAA could furloughs. The letter outlines $1.2 billion in savings that would more than cover the FAA's $600 million shortfall.

Suggestions for Savings:

(1) Complete a review and eliminate annual funding for unnecessary "non-classified basic airports." In 2012, the FAA noted, many of these airports have been in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) for decades, but no longer fit the criteria for receiving funding, including 22 privately owned airports. This will save about $41 million.

(2) Reduce the FAA's spending on consultants, supplies, and travel by 15 percent. This will save about $105 million.

(3) Reduce or eliminate spending on the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP). A 2008 FAA Inspector General (IG) study reviewed SCASDP and found that "most projects failed to fully achieve their objectives." Specifically 62.5% of projects failed to attain even a single project goal, while 70% failed to fully achieve their objectives. Neither President Obama nor President Bush requested funding for this program. This reform will save $6 million. In 2011, a $700,000 SCADP grant was awarded to Albany International Airport to provide revenue guarantees for a United Airlines direct flight to Houston. Notably, Albany received this "small community" grant despite the fact it is already served by 7 different airlines with 24 nonstop destinations, including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Orlando. Albany International Airport is going to use the federal funds to help solves its "East Coast-centric" service problem so that travelers from Albany to smaller market destinations in the Southwest and Mexico do not have to make the dreaded "double connection."

(4) Reduce Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants by up to $926 million, as outlined in the President's FY2013 budget. The President's FY2012 budget, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and the Congressional Budget Office also included options for significant savings within this program. These savings can be met by increasing the local cost-share, giving airport managers and communities greater flexibility in meeting their construction needs while making the cost-share consistent for all airports. This will save up to $926 million.

(5) Reduce or eliminate spending on the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.This will save $118 million. This program, intended to be temporary, was included in the CBO's recommendations for elimination. This program heavily subsidizes 37 commercial airports within 100 miles to medium or large airports, as well as 25 airports with less than 10 passengers a day. In a 2009 report, the Government Accountability Office indicated low-cost flights at non-subsidized airports are often more convenient and cheaper than EAS flights.

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