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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Government, Industry React to Furlough-Fueled Flight Delays

By Woodrow Bellamy III

Amid aviation industry and lawmaker protests, FAA's sequestration-related furloughs of air traffic controllers began this week, resulting in flight delays at some of the nation's busiest airports. 

FAA said this week's furloughs have resulted in more than 5,000 flight delays, which the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association (NATCA) reports is double the amount for the same period in 2012. On Wednesday FAA issued a statement saying controllers will be spacing planes farther apart to better mange traffic with current staff, which will lead to delays at Chicago O'Hare, Las Vegas and Tampa, Fla. 

“Without immediate action, flight delays will worsen during the summer as the workforce begins taking scheduled vacations," said Louis Dupart, executive director of the FAA Managers Association, which represents 1,500 managers and supervisors across the agency. 

JetBlue, US Airways, Delta and other major carriers have issued travel advisories to passengers. Airlines for America (A4A) has launched a website -- dontgroundamerica.com -- providing its supporters a method to electronically submit  letters to Congress, the White House and FAA asking them to find ways to reverse the budget cuts that lead to the furloughs. 

According to A4A, ground delay programs are being implemented at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport, Northern Virginia's Dulles International Airport, Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles airports.

"This is problematic because by FAA’s own admission, there will be a subjective judgment component and it will not attribute a delay to staffing unless that delay is 'substantially' caused by staffing," A4A said in a statement.

On Tuesday Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Kloubuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the Dependable Air Service Act, which would give FAA the flexibility to transfer funds between accounts so that it could eliminate the furloughs. The senators say FAA has authority to move 2 percent of its operational budget without congressional approval, and 5 percent with congressional approval. 

“Clearly, there is room in the DoT discretionary accounts to mitigate some of the $206 million reduction to air traffic controllers,” said Hoeven. "Our bill addresses the issue directly and in a bipartisan way by giving the secretary of transportation the flexibility he needs to prioritize his budget and put air traffic controllers back on the job for America’s traveling public.”

Related: FAA Projects Delays, Cites Sequester

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