Federal aviation officials are telling airline and airport executives that they are working to minimize any disruption from imminent government budget cuts to passenger airline service, but warn the mandatory belt-tightening will impact air traffic overall.
At a meeting in Washington on Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would give priority to 77 "core" facilities -- large airports and their related air traffic control centers, which it did not identify.
But the agency would reduce staffing system wide and would likely close 238 control towers at less busy airports. Those towers handle 5.8 percent of all commercial air traffic, the FAA said.
"It was clear at the meeting that the brunt of the cuts were at the cost of general aviation (private and business aircraft), and the agency even recognized that," said Melissa Rudinger of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a group representing private pilots in Washington.
The Transportation Department faces about $1 billion in budget cuts through the end of the fiscal year unless Congress acts by Friday to avert them. The cuts are part of a political impasse affecting spending across the government.
Much of the agency's austerity will hit the FAA, which employs about 15,000 controllers and oversees traffic at more than 400 airports used by commercial airlines, business jets and private pilots.
Large airports will also be impacted.
All FAA employees have been told they may be furloughed at least one day every two weeks, inevitably meaning that aviation facilities will have fewer controllers.
While the cuts would inevitably reduce the number of operations -- take-offs and landings -- the FAA said it would maintain the highest level of safety.
The impact would be greatest at the nation's small- and mid-sized airfields, the FAA acknowledged.