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Spending cuts to FAA will hit W.Va. hard, Rahall says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., focused on the impact "sequestration" would have on the nation's airports, particularly in rural areas.

Across-the-board federal spending cuts -- or sequestration -- could begin to take effect Friday if Congress does not pass new federal budget legislation.

Rahall, the committee's top Democrat, said air travelers will face major disruptions if sequestration takes its full effect during coming weeks and months.

"Sequestration will have dire consequences for rural America, which, in many ways, depends on aviation more than any other part of our country," Rahall said.

In West Virginia, air traffic facilities could close at airports in Bridgeport, Wheeling, Huntington, Lewisburg and Williamstown.

"Congress made a commitment in the FAA bill to protect aviation for rural America -- by, for example, continuing the Essential Air Service program; by improving the safety of air ambulances that save the lives of thousands of Americans in rural areas; by directing the FAA to give pilots more tools to access rural airports in bad weather."

But if a budget cut of more than $600 million is forced on the FAA, Rahall said, "the needs of rural America could again be put aside as the FAA struggles to cope with demand in major metropolitan areas, where flight delays could top 90 minutes.

"I continue to urge leaders from both sides of the aisle to work to together and find a reasonable compromise that avoids the worst impacts of sequestration," Rahall said.

If Congress does not pass new budget legislation and sequestration begins on Friday, Rahall predicts, nearly all of the FAA's 47,000 employees could eventually be furloughed.

"Radio beacons and radars could sit unused while the technicians who repair them are at home without pay. Planes will stack up in the air and line up on the ground as air traffic control struggles to cope with the furlough of hundreds of controllers on any given day.

"And more than 200 air traffic control towers, including almost all of the control towers in my home state of West Virginia, could be closed -- possibly for good."

Rural America, Rahall believes, depends on aviation more than any other part of the country does.

"As we stand on the precipice, I cannot help but think: Here we go again. The FAA limped along under 23 short-term extensions before a long-term reauthorization was finally enacted last year."

In 2011, Rahall added, Republican opposition in the House delayed passage of a new FAA bill that put "almost 4,000 employees on furlough without pay and cost almost $400 million in lost revenue....

"We have an obligation to our constituents not only to cut the deficit, but also to ensure a government that fulfills its most basic and essential responsibilities, like keeping the flying American public safe."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164. 

 


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