Posted at: 02/22/2013 4:04 PM
Updated at: 02/22/2013 4:17 PM
The overnight air traffic control shift at Duluth International Airport could be eliminated if federal lawmakers don't reach a budget agreement by March 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday.
The DOT says it will be forced to cut its expenditures by $600 million of the "sequestration" moves forward. The department is considering eliminating the night shift at Duluth and about five dozen other facilities, closing another 100 air traffic control facilities, and furloughing tens of thousands of employees for one day per pay period. The furloughs and shutdowns would begin in April.
The air traffic control facilities that could be closed include four in the Twin Cities area, eight in Wisconsin, and one in Marquette, Mich.
In a letter to the Pentagon and aviation industry leaders Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote, "Safety is our top priority, and in the course of implementing the operational changes...we may reduce the efficiency of the national airspace in order to maintain the highest safety standards." LaHood warned flights to major cities could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because there will be fewer controllers on staff.
Congress has not yet reached an alternative to avoid the "sequestration" it set in place in 2011 when it failed to reach an agreement on spending cuts. The "sequester" will take effect March 1 unless Congress finds a different way to balance the budget.