Air traffic controllers in Central Texas were relieved after Congress approved a bill Friday that will stop employee furloughs but said they remain worried about the future of their jobs.
The $253 million bill only keeps Austin air traffic controllers working full-time until September, the end of the fiscal year. Air traffic controllers in San Marcos and Georgetown — who work at privately-owned towers that receive federal funding — are not sure they will have a job after June 15.
Towers in San Marcos and Georgetown were part of 149 nationwide slated for closure because of the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. Friday’s bill only requires the Federal Aviation Administration to use money from other parts of its budget to stop the furloughs, not keep the towers open.
Matt Sheffield, an air traffic controller at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said his relief is curbed by concern that the FAA might decide to furlough its employees again in October, when Congress and President Barack Obama must consider a new budget.
Sheffield said Austin-Bergstrom controllers asked other airports to send fewer planes this week because there were not enough controllers to manage traffic safely. Sheffield said he worked until 3 a.m. on Monday, or three hours later than usual, coordinating late arrivals.
San Marcos air traffic controller Ed Mears said he hopes the FAA will set aside money to keep control towers open, an estimated $50 million cost. Officials in Georgetown did not immediately return calls for comment Friday.
“The FAA has been saying that they don’t want to close the towers, but they have to because they don’t have the money to keep them open,” Mears said. “Congress just gave them the money to keep them open, so they don’t have that excuse anymore.”