LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Automatic federal budget cuts could shut down control towers at five Louisiana airports.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday of the closing of 100 airport towers at airports that have 150,000 flights or fewer each year if automatic spending cuts go into effect March 1.
Among the airports that could be affected are Lake Charles Regional Airport, Lake Charles Chennault International Airport, Monroe Regional Airport, New Orleans Lakefront Airport and Shreveport Downtown Airport.
They're on a list of 200 airports from which the FAA expects to select 100 towers to be closed by April 1.
Midnight shifts could be eliminated for 60 towers nationwide, including Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City.
If towers close, pilots who are landing and taking off would coordinate with each other on a common radio frequency. But it could slow down airport operations and make fields ineligible for military operations.
"We're hopeful for a better outcome," said Chennault's executive director, Randy Robb. "Our airfield is open 24 hours a day, and our tower is staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. We are regularly accessed by military aircraft, of course, because Chennault can handle every type of aircraft flying in the world today — but military airplanes won't go to an uncontrolled field.
If the FAA stops paying controllers, local airports may look to other ways to keep them staffed.
"If sequestration proceeds, there are options available for our tower operations, and we will pursue those options," Robb said.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La, said Friday's announcement was a political scare tactic by President Barack Obama's administration.
"I believe the sequestration is going to take place, and my position at this point is we should let it take place," Alexander said. "The president wants $1 trillion in new taxes, and that's not going to happen. I'm not sure how the cuts will impact the economy because even the experts don't have a consensus, but I think we're going to find out."
But Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said it was time for Congress and the president to find other alternatives.
"Their actions will negatively impact us," Mayo said. "It's time our delegation and Congress work together to get us out of this mess. All of this is because of the division in Washington and because of this disagreement on how the budget should be handled. The decisions that are being proposed are a result of people not working together for the good of the American people."
The FAA says it will cut $600 million from the rest of the 2013 budget year. LaHood warns that because other controllers will be furloughed without pay up to one day a week, delays are likely when flying to larger airports as well. LaHood warned of delays of up to 90 minutes to fly to major airports and predicted airlines will reschedule or cancel flights.