FAA shutdown: Thousands not working
WASHINGTON (AP) - Dozens of airport construction projects across the country are on hold and thousands of federal employees are not working because Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday.
The FAA's operating authority expired at midnight Friday, forcing a partial agency shutdown. Dozens of stop-work orders were issued over the weekend for projects to build and modernize airport control towers, as well as other improvement projects, officials said. Many of the airport projects are designed to improve the efficiency of air travel and reduce congestion.
"Because Congress didn't do its work, FAA programs and thousands of public and private sector jobs are in jeopardy," LaHood told reporters in a conference call. He called on lawmakers to quickly pass legislation to restart shuttered operations.
But all indications Monday pointed to a prolonged shutdown. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there are no negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve the dispute, and House Republican leaders are determined to hold their position.
"I have no idea when we'll open the FAA again," he said.
Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots. But airlines' authority to collect federal ticket taxes has expired, costing FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue, Babbitt said.
That money goes into an aviation trust fund. The fund "has a healthy balance now, but that would be depleted in fairly rapid order" without congressional action, he said.
Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, who are paid from the trust fund have been furloughed.
$2.5 billion of construction projects on hold, including in D.C. region
About $2.5 billion in federal airport construction grants cannot be processed because workers who handle those grants have been furloughed, officials said. That, in turn, has halted construction projects, putting hundreds of other people employed by those jobs out of work.
Among the halted projects are $300,000 worth of construction in D.C., $9.1 million in Maryland and more than $40 million in Virginia.
"This is simply going to slow down our ability to expand to keep up with growing traffic demands," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.
For example, work was scheduled to begin Saturday on a $6 million project to demolish a control tower at New York's LaGuardia Airport. But the Paul J. Scariano construction firm laid off 40 workers who were assigned to the demolition project, leaving the partly dismantled tower unattended, said company vice president Luca Toscano.
"I'm worried about the planes underneath," Toscano said. "There's nobody up there keeping an eye on the equipment or scaffolding or anything. If we get a bad storm, a piece of wood or something might go flying."
Approval also is on hold for airports to receive a new generation of super large airliners, including permission for Boeing 747-800s to begin servicing San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Newark, N.J., and Huntsville, Ala., according to the FAA.
Long-term funding authority for the FAA expired in 2007. Unable to agree on new long-term funding legislation for the agency, Congress has kept the FAA operating through a series of 20 short-term extension bills.
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