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Sequestration cuts threaten movement of cargo


FedEx and UPS cargo jets are parked along with military transport jets in this file photo. Democrats and federal authorities are warning delivery times could be impacted if across-the-board spending cuts go into effect this week.
FedEx and UPS cargo jets are parked at an airport along with military transport jets in this file photo. Democrats and federal authorities are warning delivery times could be impacted if across-the-board spending cuts go into effect this week.
Federal officials warn that cargo shipments, air traffic towers and transportation security agency workers could be impacted by automatic cuts.
Federal officials warn that cargo shipments, air traffic towers and transportation security agency workers could be impacted by automatic cuts.

No overnighters at towers

The Federal Aviation Administration said it could eliminate overnight shifts at 60 airport control towers, including 19 in the Southeast. Here’s a list of facilities that could be impacted by proposed sequestration cuts:

Alabama: Birmingham Shuttlesworth International

Arkansas: Clinton National, Little Rock

Florida: Daytona Beach International, Jacksonville International, Palm Beach International, Pensacola TRACON

Kentucky: Blue Grass at Lexington

Louisiana: Shreveport Regional

North Carolina: Fayetteville Regional, Piedmont Triad International at Greensboro

South Carolina: Charleston International, Columbia Metropolitan

Tennessee: Nashville International, McGhee Tyson at Knoxville

Virginia: Norfolk International, Richmond International, Roanoke Regional

West Virginia: Yeager at Charleston, Tri-State at Huntington

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 27, 2013

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The movement of cargo by sea and air could be hampered if sequestration kicks in Friday, forcing agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs to cut back operations.

The FAA, looking to trim $600 million from its budget through Sept. 30, said it could eliminate overnight staffing at 60 airport towers, including 19 in the Southeast.

The FAA also is considering closing down control towers at more than 200 other airports, with nearly a third of them in the Southeast.

Cargo movement also could be slowed by the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to furlough nearly 22,000 customs agents to meet a mandatory $754 million budget cut if sequestration goes through.

“These furloughs would significantly increase wait times for visitors at our nation’s land ports of entry, and for passengers at airports,” said a report issued by Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“At the busiest airports, the increase in peak airport wait times would regularly reach three or more hours,” the report said. Officials added that inspection of cargo containers at seaports could be delayed up to a week.

Overnight shifts could be eliminated at the control towers at Columbia and Charleston and towers at four other S.C. airports — Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, Florence and the Donaldson Center at Greenville — could be closed, the FAA said.

The furloughs won’t go into effect until April 1 because the government is required to give workers at least 30 days’ notice.

Eliminating the overnight shift at the local control tower shouldn’t impact operations, said Dan Mann, executive director of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Procedures and policies are in place that would allow the airport to continue to operate if no one is in the tower, Mann said.

“We would still function 24/7,” Mann said. “It’s just different procedures that would be implemented primarily by the FAA.”

The Columbia airport has between seven and 11 aircraft operations — takeoffs and landings — happening daily between midnight and 5 a.m., a spokeswoman said.

Columbia, the state’s busiest airport for cargo, also the UPS Southeast hub, which averages 10 flights daily and a robust FedEx air freight operation.

How the elimination of the overnight shift at Columbia would affect the individual carriers’ operations was unclear.

“UPS is closely monitoring the sequestration proceedings,” said Mike Mangeot, spokesman for the Atlanta-based carrier, which last year loaded more than 22.4 million pounds of freight at Columbia. “And while we are in communication with the FAA regarding the effect of possible cuts, it is premature to speculate at this time.”

Officials at Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx were examining the issue, a spokeswoman said.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority said staffers weren’t aware of any potential interruptions in service at Charleston International Airport. However, they were staying in touch with the FAA.

Jean Medina, senior vice president of communications for Airlines for America

“Air transportation is a key driver of our economy, and should not be used as a political football.”


— Jean Medina, senior vice president of communications for Airlines for America

Joint Base Charleston, which shares the North Charleston airport with civilian authorities, declined to speculate on how proposed FAA cutback might affect its operations. The Air Force has 57 C-17 cargo planes based assigned to 437th Airlift Wing, headquartered at Charleston.

The FAA said a regional operations center at Hilliard, Fla., near Jacksonville, would handle communications with pilots landing or taking off from Columbia and Charleston if the local towers are not staffed overnight.

At Airlines for America, formerly known as Air Transport Association of America, a spokeswoman said she wasn’t aware of any carrier canceling flights or altering operations to deal with the possible FAA cuts.

“But we plan to meet with the FAA to get a better understanding of what they are considering,” said Jean Medina, senior vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based industry group.

“Air transportation is a key driver of our economy, and should not be used as a political football,” Medina said. The industry moves 2 million passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo daily, she added.

One potential budget cut that could impact travelers is the Transportation Security Administration’s plans to reduce its frontline workforce. The White House said the agency would need to initiate a hiring freeze, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days for the remainder of the fiscal year.

That means longer waits for passengers in maneuvering through security checkpoints at airports.

“The answer to that is to show up at the airport early,” Mann said.

With fewer Customs agents, the movement of cargo at airports as well as seaports will likely slow down.

Customs agents check legal documents and inspect cargo entering the United States. They also check declaration forms every traveler must fill out before entering the United States.

The cutbacks in customs personnel could lead to delays of up to five days for container examinations, said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection.

“We work on a real-time inventory economy,” Napolitano said Monday at a news briefing in Washington. “That translates into lots and lots of jobs — good paying jobs.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.


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