Sequestration could double wait times at busiest US airports: Napolitano

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Sequestration could increase the wait time for customs and immigration, and security by up to two hours at the busiest US airports, says US homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano.

"[We're] trying to mitigate this every possible way we can," she says at the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) AVSEC World aviation security conference in New York today. "But it's about doing the math and deploying the programme that is sequestration."

Napolitano says that customs and immigration waits could increase to nearly four hours from two hours during peak times at airports including Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare, Los Angeles, Newark and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK), after furloughs go into effect in April.

The sequester involves $85 billion in across the board cuts to the US federal budget through the end of the fiscal year on 30 September. It went into effect on 1 March.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will eliminate employee overtime, stop filling vacated positions and furlough every employee one workday out of every 14, she says.

Napolitano warns that airlines may need to recalculate connection times at major airports if the sequester budget cuts stay in effect.

"This is an unacceptable way to run a business," says Dave Barger, chief executive of JetBlue Airways, regarding the US Congress' decision to allow the budget cuts to go into effect. He says that there is no impact on JetBlue's operations yet but that he expects that there will be.

Security waits are also expected to increase at US airports as a result of the sequester. The exact impact on checkpoint wait times are not yet clear but will occur, says John Pistole, administrator of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), at the conference.

TSA employees will be subject to the same overtime cutbacks and furloughs that were outlined by Napolitano. TSA is responsible for security screening at airports in the USA.

Tony Tyler, director general and chief executive of IATA, says that he expects a noticeable impact on security wait times to begin within a month, on the sidelines of the conference.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that it could close 100 air traffic control towers and eliminate midnight shifts at an additional 60 towers as a result of $600 million in cuts to its budget from the sequester.