WASHINGTON — The U.S. air travel system faces widespread disruptions if automatic government spending cuts go into effect next week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday as the Obama Administration kept up pressure on Congress to delay the cuts.
Mr. LaHood painted a dismal picture of delayed and canceled flights, shuttered control towers and airports, and irate air travelers from coast to coast if across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to take place under the process known as sequestration.
The automatic spending cuts would affect airports of all sizes, he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration would furlough staff at air-traffic control facilities beginning April 1, Mr. LaHood said.
Toledo Express is on an FAA list of 72 airports where overnight operations could be eliminated. Others include Dayton, Canton-Akron, Youngstown, Lansing, and Willow Run in Ypsilanti, Mich.
The effect on Toledo Express is unclear.
“The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority is aware of the possibility of an FAA budget sequestration, which may limit the amount of hours the air traffic control tower is operational at Toledo Express Airport,” a port authority spokesman, Holly Kemler, who is communications coordinator, said in an e-mail.
“The airport has one DHL flight that departs at night and the Ohio Air National Guard operates 24 hours a day. Due to the vagueness of communication from the FAA, the Port Authority is seeking further clarification before commenting on this matter,” she said.
A separate list on the FAA Web site includes 230 towers at smaller and midsize airports that may be closed. That list includes airports in Ann Arbor and Mansfield, Ohio.
Automatic across-the-board budget cuts totaling $85 billion are set to take effect Friday unless Democrats and Republicans come to some agreement to stop or postpone them.
“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours,” Mr. LaHood said. “Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country.”
The White House and Democrats in Congress have been intensifying a campaign to warn about potential job losses, cuts, and disruptions in public services, all designed to prod constituents into pressuring Republicans into submission on the cuts.
Three Republican members of Congress who serve on committees with oversight over transportation called Mr. LaHood’s assertion’s “exaggerations.”
The agency was “well positioned to absorb spending reductions without compromising the safety and efficiency” of the flight system, according to a statement on Friday signed by Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.).
Republicans, who have argued that government overspending is hurting the U.S. economy, have so far rebuffed President Obama’s request for a delay.
Some Republican congressmen have said that while the cuts may be painful, they could be a necessary jolt to wean the nation from excessive government spending.
A Pew Research Center poll on Thursday showed only modest public awareness of the cuts.
The briefing by Mr. LaHood, a Republican, coincided with the release by his department of a list of smaller airports that would have to curtail operations because of furloughs caused by the cuts. His warnings did not worry some aviation experts.
George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting, said his comments “sound like scare-mongering.”
President Obama said he did not believe it was inevitable the cuts would take place.
He said such cuts would slow U.S. economic growth, but probably not disrupt world financial markets.
The national air traffic controllers union urged Congress to avoid the cuts.