Congress passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act, a bill that gives FAA authority to use surplus Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds and other funds to end sequestration-related furloughs of its 47,000 employees. The bill now heads to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law later today. The Senate passed the bill Thursday night, and less than 24 hours later, the House passed it with a unanimous vote.
(Radar air traffic controller. Photo, courtesy of the National Air Traffic Controller's Association.)
FAA reported a total of 863 flight delays on Thursday due to "staffing reductions," and has reported over 1,000 delays per day since Monday as a result of the furloughs. The bill, co-sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
“The challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting; not only is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration compounds the problem. It’s unfortunate that these irresponsible cuts led to widespread delays to the air transportation system,” said Collins.
The bill does not increase FAA's budget authority and does not exceed the 2011 Budget Control Act limits that lead to the $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts enacted in March.
According to Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the bill gives FAA the capacity to end air traffic controller furloughs and "discretion" to keep funding contract air traffic control towers. The towers were originally scheduled to begin closing earlier this month, a process that has been delayed until June 15.
Aviation industry groups, airlines and air travelers spoke out about the delays created by the furloughs throughout the week, as some of the nation's busiest airports posted notices to their websites advising travelers to prepare for delays directly related to the staffing reductions.
“Air travel is critical to our economy and to jobs, and this measure ensures that air traffic controllers can return to work, and importantly return efficiency to the national air space," said Nicholas Calio, president of airlines industry group Airlines for America (A4A).
Related: Government, Industry React to Furlough-Fueled Flight Delays