The Naples Municipal Airport is among 100 U.S. airports and three in Southwest Florida facing closure of its air traffic control tower should the federal government continue with sequestration in the coming weeks.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $600 million in proposed cuts on Friday as part of the process.
The possible cuts raise concerns that some airports could be forced to close or else pay for their own costly contracts with air traffic control providers to stay open.
The list includes municipal airports with fewer than 150,000 annual flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations.
Last year, the Naples airport had about 87,000 flight operations.
Sheila Dugan, deputy executive director for the airport, said she hopes that’s enough to maintain operations.
“We feel we’re busy enough that we shouldn’t be impacted, but still you don’t know what could happen,” she said.
Dugan said the airport would likely consider taking over or beginning a new contract with its air traffic control providers to remain open.
Also on the list are Page Field in Fort Myers and the Punta Gorda airport. In all, there are 20 Florida airports on the list for possible closure.
Closing all three would create added stress for the Southwest Florida International Airport, which would likely see an increase in travelers, Dugan said. However, details of what the closures would mean for travelers remain murky.
“We wouldn’t know until the (Federal Aviation Administration) comes out with their plans,” said Vicki Moreland, a spokeswoman for Southwest Florida International. “It’s an FAA situation now.”
While sequestration deadline is March 1, FAA officials have said they would delay implementing the cuts until April, to allow for some transition, Dugan said.
The transportation department is also looking to implement furloughs for the FAA’s 47,000 employees, though Dugan said that measure would not affect the Naples airport.
The department is also considering eliminating midnight shifts in 60 air traffic towers across the country.
“We are aware that these service reductions will adversely affect commercial, corporate and general aviation operators,” Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote. “We also expect that as airlines estimate the potential impacts of these furloughs, they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”
LaHood appeared at a White House media briefing Friday to announce the cuts he has outlined should Congress fail to pass an alternative deficit-reduction package.
The sequester was originally passed as part of the 2011 debt ceiling compromise. The $85 billion in automatic cuts imposed across the board were intended to encourage Congress to work out a better deal to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit.
“As a former member of Congress of 14 years, I urge my former colleagues to address this issue when they get back next Monday and to work on a long-term, balanced solution to our deficit challenges,” he said.
He warned that travelers should expect delays if the transportation department has to make cuts while maintaining safety as its top priority.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, denied that he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers. He said the effect of the cuts will begin to be felt around the beginning of April.
“What I’m trying to do is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come to the table so we don’t have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America,” he said.
The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report.