Matt Welch: A sequester scare story in three acts
BY Matt Welch April 2, 2013 5:22PM
Updated: May 4, 2013 6:27AM
Act 1: In which National Public Radio host Steve Inskeep warns us that we’re about to listen to some scary real-world effects of the federal budget sequester:
“OK. It’s been a month since automatic spending cuts went into effect. Many Americans have not yet felt the impact, but that’s soon going to change. And people who fly out of small, regional airports could be among the first to notice.”
Act 2: NPR’s David Greene brings on Yvette Aehle, director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, Ga., to talk about the terrible danger that passengers will face now that Aehle’s airport stands to lose its air traffic controllers:
GREENE: So is this unheard of, operating an airport with no one in the tower?
AEHLE: Well, it’s not unheard of. I mean, there’s lots of airports around America that do not have an air traffic control tower. However, we’ve always had one. And to go back to being an uncontrolled airport is not something that we’re used to doing and don’t want to do.
GREENE: What does that mean, an uncontrolled airport? I mean, where are their pilots, kind of who are they talking to when they’re getting directions and so forth?
AEHLE: We have a common traffic frequency that they will all switch to, and they will all talk to each other. Pilots know there’s a typical pattern, and they know how to fly in and land on our runways. But it’s going to be a see-and-be-seen. And the closest metaphor that I can explain to people is it’s like having a stoplight, and then going to a flashing red light.
Act: 3: Under the heat of extremely friendly and credulous questioning, it is revealed that, well, ah, you see . . . most planes at this airport already land without benefit of a controller:
GREENE: I hear you using words like mistake and more of a chance for error. I mean, it sounds like it is less safe to fly in and out of your airport if things are working out this way.
AEHLE: Well, I don’t really want to say anything is less safe. It’s just a better opportunity for people to listen and to be heard and to understand where they are. And also, I’d like to point out that we don’t have 24-hour tower coverage here currently. Those air traffic controllers are only directing traffic between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. And most of our heavy traffic is outside of those hours.
GREENE: Well, this sounds like a very important point. Most of your traffic already is flying in and out of your airport without any air traffic controllers at your airport.
AEHLE: Yes. Yes. Yes.
GREENE: So this is not a stunning change for you?
AEHLE: No. It’s not a stunning change, but that’s not something that we’d like.
There you have it. The sequester makes Yvette Aehle uncomfortable. And she doesn’t like that.
Matt Welch is a senior writer for Reason.com, where this was posted.