Sequestration could impact local flyers

Travelers out of the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear won’t see flights grounded as a result of automatic federal spending cuts, but long delays are a possibility.

That news comes as many North Country residents prepare to fly to warmer locales for spring break.

At Tuesday’s North Elba town board meeting, Supervisor Roby Politi asked Adirondack Regional Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch how the sequester – automatic spending reductions that took effect earlier this month – would impact the Lake Clear facility. Hurwitch was at the meeting to present a positive report on the airport’s activity for 2012.

“That’s a very good question,” Hurwitch said. “We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Hurwitch said he’s been told that the Transportation Security Administration has cut overtime. Approximately eight TSA workers are stationed at Adirondack Regional. They do have the authority to continue running security checkpoints to make sure the airport’s last outbound flights are able to leave, Hurwitch said.

“Other than that, all their overtime is cut,” he said.

The big concern, Hurwitch said, is the potential furlough of Federal Aviation Administration employees.

“We could see some serious delays because even though we don’t have an air traffic control tower, our guys have to get their clearances somewhere,” he said. “Wherever they’re going to or coming from could be affected. Primarily, that’s New York City, and that’s some of the most congested airspace to begin with. When they start to close other towers or eliminate night shifts and those kinds of things, it’s going to have a ripple effect, I believe.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said the FAA will have to furlough employees, possibly as early as the beginning of April.

“It’s unclear what impact that will have,” he said. “For instance, it’s difficult for me to believe that since they fly into Boston from Lake Clear, that the Boston airport is going to be impacted to the extent that it will stop flights from Lake Clear. They may be slowed down and you may get some air traffic delays, but I don’t think you’re going to see the flights stopped.

“The other thing that could happen here is, if the Senate comes forward with appropriations bills that include the FAA piece and the Homeland Security piece, then because they’re giving more flexibility to the agencies, they may be able to reorganize their expenditures so that you wouldn’t see the depth of furloughing and therefore not the depth of negative outcomes.”

No FAA employees are based at the Lake Clear airport, Hurwitch said, although some do perform maintenance at the facility.

“They maintain our navigational aids, like our instrument landing system and our approach lights,” he told the Enterprise. “So there’s a possibility that if any of that equipment goes down – and a lot of it is pretty old – that it would be delayed in getting back up.”

Grant funds, which small airports often rely on, won’t be affected by the sequester, Hurwitch said.

“That pool (of money) is supposed to be unaffected,” he said. “They still haven’t released that money yet, so there’s potential for it to be indirectly affected.”

Owens said in the short term, the loss of grant funding isn’t a concern. That could change when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

“Hopefully between now and then, we will find a substitute for sequestration which does cut government expenditures but does not do it in the way we have here,” he said.