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Tampa Bay airports brace for threat of budget cuts

Airports are dependent on federal agencies doing their jobs — directing air traffic, searching passengers, screening luggage — to run smoothly.

Which is why Tampa Bay airport officials are concerned about what will happen if next week's automatic federal budget cuts — the infamous sequestration — come to pass.

The likely effect will be long lines and delayed flights. The automatic federal spending cuts are set for March 1, though it could take days or weeks before fliers feel the impact.

"If sequestration hits and you're planning on flying out of Tampa International Airport to a major city like New York or Chicago," said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink, "you should expect that your flight will be delayed."

The Federal Aviation Administration said its work force of 47,000 will have to start taking one furlough day every two weeks if the sequester hits.

That means there will be fewer air traffic controllers available to direct flights, resulting in delays. The FAA will also eliminate the midnight shift at 60 airports and close more than 100 air traffic control towers at smaller airports that have fewer than 150,000 flights or 10,000 commercial flights a year.

St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport is the only Tampa Bay facility on the list of 20 Florida airports that would see its air traffic control tower closed. It is not clear when that would take place. Albert Whitted officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Airports rely on the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search and screen passengers and luggage. Both are under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has not yet addressed how the sequester will affect its operations. The Department of Homeland Security did not return a call for comment Friday.

"We still haven't heard from TSA or CBP," Zink said. "They haven't told us what kind of impacts there might be. We're in wait-and-see mode on that."

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport spokeswoman Michele Routh said they're still waiting to hear from federal officials before they know how their airport will be impacted.

"We have to wait until we have information," she said

Tampa Bay airports brace for threat of budget cuts 02/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 9:05pm]
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