Air Traffic Controller Furloughs Cause Major Flight Delays Across Nation

By Paul Riegler on 22 April 2013
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An American Airlines plane parked at the gate at JFK

On the first heavy travel day of the week following the start of air traffic controller furloughs due to sequester-related budget cuts, flight delays of up to two hours were reported at many airports.

Starting Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration began to operate the nation’s air traffic control system with 10% fewer controllers.

The FAA said that “travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues.” In addition, it said there were special “staffing challenges” at radar centers in New York, Dallas-Fort Worth, Jacksonville and Los Angeles. Controllers there had to space airplanes farther apart in order to not overload the controllers on duty.

As delays mounted, airlines, including Delta, JetBlue, and US Airways, found themselves cancelling flights as a result of the cutbacks. The normally punctual shuttle flights between New York and Washington, D.C. were running a minimum of 60 minutes behind.   However, some airlines, including Southwest, said they were not experiencing any delays attributable to the furloughs.

Groups representing the airline industry and a major pilots’ union filed suit on Friday to force the FAA to cancel the furloughs.  A hearing is scheduled for later this week.  Last week, the FAA released figures estimating that the furloughs would affect as many as 6,700 flights per day.  On a normal day, anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 flights operate at U.S. airports.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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