March 12, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Federal budget cuts mandated by sequestration have begun to make their presence felt in reduced Customs and Border Protection and FAA control tower schedules at general aviation airports including some of the most heavily used facilities for international flights in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas.
AOPA is working with Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations to ensure that members have the most up-to-date information about service cutbacks. The association is working with the agency to mitigate the effect on flight operations, said Tom Zecha, AOPA manager of aviation security.
Rick Gardner of Caribbean Sky Tours, AOPA’s authorized representative for the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, also offered pilots this advice: “If you are planning an international trip, you should pay close attention to ensure that the airport will be suitable for your arrival, and that CBP will be present at the airport.”
Since the service cutbacks began, Caribbean Sky Tours has remained in contact with FAA and CBP facilities at international airports, tracking closures and schedule reductions. Some facilities reported business as usual—but in other cases there was uncertainty about the future of operating schedules, Gardner said.
As of March 12, service cutbacks at CBP installations and some control towers had taken effect at numerous airports, as shown on this list being updated regularly at Caribbean Sky Tours. Members should consult the site for the latest information before commencing a flight, as operating schedules may be subject to change on extremely short notice.
In a March 12 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, AOPA President Craig Fuller urged that cuts with a disproportionate impact on general aviation be suspended while efforts continued “to grant you the needed flexibility to make choices that will reduce spending without threatening the safety of our skies or disabling general aviation.”
CBP discussed the agency-wide impact of sequestration-mandated budget cuts on the agency’s website. “Under the automatic sequestration cuts, we anticipate reducing agency-wide expenditures significantly during the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. CBP Field Operations, the office responsible for securing the U.S. border at ports of entry, will experience budget cuts equating to the loss of several thousand CBP officers at these ports of entry, in addition to significant cuts to operating budgets and programs,” it said. “Stakeholders in the travel and trade industries will see service impacts and CBP employees will be furloughed.”
The movement to exempt thousands of general aviation pilots from the third class medical certification process is gaining momentum in Congress and the aviation community.
The recent warrantless stops and searches of law-abiding pilots on general aviation flights have drawn the attention of mainstream media.
The National Aeronautic Association has awarded the Collier Trophy for “the first unmanned, autonomous air system operating from an aircraft carrier.”
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