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PolitiFact: Will the sequester delay air travel?

The statement

"There's going to be a slowdown and delays in flights" as a result of the sequester.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in an interview

The ruling

Sequestration will force the Federal Aviation Administraion to carve $600 million from its budget. But Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the advisory firm Hudson Crossing, said much of the real effect of the sequester is unknown.

"We don't know whether airlines will cancel flights and, if so, how many, the routes, time of day, and so on," he said.

Sequestration does not allow federal agencies to shift money between departments — say delaying an equipment order to keep paying air traffic controllers. But they can still prioritize under their reduced budget, cutting more deeply in administrative staff or contracting staff.

You've probably heard about the groan-worthy notion of 90-minute delays in major cities.

DOT spokesman Justin Nisly told PolitiFact that officials went into the field and asked district managers at airports how they would manage potential employee furloughs and what the impact would be. They found that at many airports, the work of getting airplanes to take off and land safely couldn't function at full capacity if there were furloughs.

That means "delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours for travelers to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco," Nisly said.

Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy at the U.S. Travel Association, which promotes increased travel to and within the United States, said sequestration will inevitably make an already cumbersome process worse.

"This could be the one place that most Americans see the impact of sequestration," Hansen said. "It's going to have a real impact on communities and the defense industry, but I think for everyday Americans — we have almost 2 million people fly in the country every day. We're going to have a lot of people understand quickly the impact."

In the end, the Obama administration has a fair amount of leeway to reduce the impact on some travelers. But it appears clear that some FAA employees will have to be taken off the job, and that will diminish the functioning of the nation's airports.

The rating: Mostly True.

Molly Moorhead, Times staff writer This report has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Will the sequester delay air travel? 02/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:59pm]

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