Ford takes star power to Capitol Hill

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Washington - He has taken on Nazi tomb raiders, Soviet spies and even Darth Vader's Death Star, but Hollywood legend Harrison Ford was cracking the whip on Tuesday against a more potent domestic enemy: budget cuts.

The original space cowboy brought his star power to Capitol Hill, drawing attention to the effects of the so-called sequester - the across-the-board cuts that have begun to hit federal programmes, including his cherished general aviation industry, to the tune of $85-billion this year.

“This funding mechanism has got some serious problems,” Ford, 70, told members of the House General Aviation Caucus.

His particular concern? The cuts could force closures of more than 200 air traffic control towers at non-commercial airports, he said, citing Federal Aviation Administration figures.

They include many airstrips he frequents as a private pilot, an activity he said he took up 20 years ago.

“When you close a tower, you're eliminating the commercial operations that can happen there. It has a huge impact on small businesses,” he said.

It also impacts safety around many of the nation's 20 000 airports, about 500 of which have commercial operations, and closures could reduce cohesion at areas where commercial airports and general aviation airfields are in close proximity, Ford stressed.

The cuts - the FAA must strip nearly $500-million from its $9.7-billion operations budget - would also make it harder to fight forest fires, gain access for emergency or rescue personnel, and conduct crop-dusting.

It would also cut down on flight training at a time when the aviation industry faces a pilot shortage, he warned.

The actor, who played outlaw smuggler Han Solo in the blockbuster Star Wars series, maintained a serious demeanour throughout the 45-minute meeting.

But he flashed his trademark grin and a bit of humour when he was asked the difference between flying fixed-wing aircraft and the spaceships of his science-fiction heyday.

“The pay for flying the Millennium Falcon was a lot higher,” he quipped. - Sapa-AFP


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