WASHINGTON — Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood warned of major disruptions in air travel from looming mandatory spending cuts, including control tower closings and long delays at major airports.
LaHood said sequestration would force a $600 million cut to the Federal Aviation Administration, with the majority of the workforce being furloughed for one day per pay period. That would force closings or reduced hours at more than 100 smaller airport control towers, and increase delays at major airports.
"Travelers should expect delays," he said. "This will be very painful for the flying public."
Among the airports that could be closed: Boca Raton, Florida; Joplin, Missouri; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and San Marcos, Texas.
He added that the shutdowns and disruptions would take effect in April — one month after the spending cuts kick in.
LaHood, a former member of Congress and the only Republican in Obama's Cabinet, called on his former colleagues to negotiate with the president.
"I think Republicans need to step up here," he said, suggesting they watch the movie Lincoln.
"I would describe my presence here with one word: Republican," he added. "They are hoping that maybe I can influence some of the people in my own party."
LaHood acknowledged that preparations for sequestration occurred late last year, but none of those actions were ever given to the press, prompting questions that he was attempting to scare the public.
"The idea that we're just doing this to create some type of a horrific scare tactic is nonsense," he responded.