FAA Manager: Debt Deal Puts Air Travelers at Unnecessary Risk

Debt deal fails to address monies for nationwide airport improvement projects.

By Chris Glorioso
|  Thursday, Aug 4, 2011  |  Updated 7:36 AM EDT
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Chris Glorioso breaks down the lingering effects of Washington's debt deal.

Chris Glorioso breaks down the lingering effects of Washington's debt deal.

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The debt deal is done. Most lawmakers left Washington. But they headed home without approving the funds for airport improvement projects all over the country. 

The unfinished business means thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees are furloughed. Michael Vellucci, of Flemington, N.J, is one of the workers who is out of a paycheck.

"Congress is talking about getting people back to work. We need to get jobs out there," he said. "Instead, they throw 80,000 more unemployed people on the pile and go away for a vacation."

Vellucci is an FAA project manager in charge of electrical upgrades at airports including LaGuardia, JFK, and LAX. He is particularly concerned about the temporary shut-down of a project to upgrade electrical infrastructure underneath Kennedy and LaGuardia runways.

"If this were to get very prolonged, I would feel the safety risk would increase slightly because again, the infrastructure in some places is aging," he said.

Last April, an Airbus A-380, taxiing on the Kennedy tarmac clipped the tail of a much smaller regional aircraft. The tiny plane was sent spinning. Last month, it happened again. Confusion on the tarmac is believed to have led to a collision at Boston's Logan Airport. 

Republicans have agreed to restore FAA funding for capital upgrades, but only if Democrats agree to eliminate subsidies for rural airports, making it harder for airline workers to unionize. 

Josh Barro, a fiscal analyst at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, says the political tug of war could cost a billion dollars in revenue. Without funding, the FAA is unable to collect taxes on tickets.

"I think this is an example of increasing dysfunction in Washington where you have the parties unable to agree on compromises and so what you end up with are outcomes that actually end up being wasteful," Barro said.

Although lawmakers have not come to an agreement on funding for FAA capital projects, essential operating personnel like air traffic controllers remain on the job.

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