NYT's Wald Says Sequester-Related Tower Closings Risk Air Safety, Just like Reagan Did

The New York Times keeps harping on how the sequester-fueled budger cuts may make flying more dangerous, led by reporter Matthew Wald. On February 22 Wald warned "Airlines and airports across the country are preparing for across-the-board federal budget cuts due to hit next week as if they were a hurricane, although with even less certainty about how many flights they will have to cancel and how many passengers will be stranded."

On Saturday he wrote:

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that it would delay closing control towers at 149 airports until June to allow for safety analyses and “to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges.”

The closings had been planned as part of a $637 million spending reduction at the agency required under the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester.

The towers identified for closing are at fields that handle mostly private planes, corporate jets, aviation schools and minimal airline traffic. The towers’ long-term fate is not yet clear. The F.A.A. said that about 50 airport authorities and municipalities had indicated that if necessary, they would pick up the cost of running the towers themselves.

In a statement, Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said, “This has been a complex process, and we need to get this right.”

“Safety is our top priority,” he said. “We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports.”

Wald reached back over 30 years to recall President Ronald Reagan firing members of the air traffic controllers union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), after they failed to abide by federal law banning strikes by government unions.

But some pilots said that in its plans to close the towers, the F.A.A. was risking safety in a way that had not occurred since 1981, when the agency was forced to close towers because President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of air traffic controllers who had gone on strike. Some instructors at Leesburg said that there were some nearby airports, like the one in Frederick, Md., where instructors would not send a student on a solo flight if the tower were shut down.

What Wald left out: PATCO's dire warnings of safety risks did not come to pass.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.