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Sequester yet to burden Jackson International but airport in busy period

That worrisome federal budget sequester – the latest fiscal drama brought to us by a White House and Congress that can’t play nice in the same sandbox – has not yet hurt operations at Jackson’s Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

Spring break -- not the sequester -- is putting the crunch on Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

Spring break — not the sequester — is putting the crunch on Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

Passengers are nonetheless advised to show up early for their flights, say airport officials, citing delays that cutbacks in air traffic controllers and security screeners at other airports could cause in passengers making critical connections.

Plus, it’s spring break for students, which is always challenging for both fliers and airport operations, said Bonnie Wilson, COO of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority.

The sequester, which involves automatic cuts of $86 billion for the remainder of the year and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, has led Federal Aviation Administration officials to close the control tower at Jackson’s general aviation airport, Hawkins Field. Flights in and out of Hawkins will be assisted from air traffic controllers in the Jackson International tower, Wilson said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association estimates the sequester will take $483 million from operations of the Federal Aviation Administration for the remainder of the year.

The FAA has notified its Jackson International operation that personnel furloughs are forthcoming. Wilson said she is unsure at this point whether controllers or support staff will be part of the furloughs. “It’s up to FAA to determine the operational efficiency,” she added.

The key thing is that they have assured airport officials the Jackson International tower is not shutting down, Wilson said.

She said the Transportation Safety Administration has not advised her of any current or pending cutbacks in security screeners or other security personnel at the Jackson airport.

Meanwhile, the airport is starting a busy period of high school and college students beginning their spring vacations. That means more groups and more baggage, Wilson noted. “It tends to get more cumbersome.”

Plan for contingencies, she advised. For instance, “You may not get the parking space you want” and may have to circle the airport a time or two.

Give yourself about two hours before flight departure, she said.

“Get here and get in. Give yourself some time. We have free wifi and a nice little coffee shop.”

You especially want to be careful not to arrive late and lose a critical connection. Other airports may have delays or cancellations caused by the sequester or even bad weather. So getting a timely alternate connecting flight may be out of the question, Wilson warned.

Also, try to avoid booking on the last flight out of Jackson International for the evening if you have a critical connection to make. If the flight out is delayed you could lose your connection, she noted.

Also check ahead to ensure that your airline has not had to reroute a flight because of closed runways or other reasons. You can check for flight delays at the FAA’s web site Flyfaa.gov.

“We’re part of a system,” she said. “What affects Atlanta and Chicago affects us.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association warns that the cuts that began Friday could result in FAA furloughs severe enough to force Atlanta’s Jackson-Hartsfield International to close one runway, reducing its hourly arrival rate by 24 percent. If that happens, delays would likely pile up in Atlanta and ripple through the national system, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday.







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