Airline Groups File Suit Against Controller Furloughs

By Paul Riegler on 20 April 2013
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John F. Kennedy International Airport earlier this month

John F. Kennedy International Airport earlier this month

Two groups representing the airline industry in the United States filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration Friday, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to stop the furlough of air traffic controllers Sunday.  The two airline trade associations, Airlines for America and the Regional Airline Association, were joined by the Air Line Pilots Association in the suit.

Most observers predict delays in air travel that will resemble severe winter storms, and the FAA’s own figures issued earlier this week support this.  Nonetheless, the agency says it is required to cut back in order to achieve the spending cuts mandated by Congress thanks to the sequester.

The court is unlikely to hear the case until after the start of the week, by which time the furloughs – as well as the delays – will have started.

At a news conference announcing the move, officials said that the way that the FAA is implementing the furloughs could result in one out of every three airline passengers suffering a delay or cancellation.

“The impact of these cuts on our industry cannot be overstated,” said Faye Black, vice president of the Regional Airline Association. “We think there is not one airport in the nation that will be immune to this.”

The parties contend that the FAA has discretion to spare the controllers from furloughs, something the FAA itself says it lacks.  The current plan is “illegal, irresponsible and damaging, and most of all…totally unnecessary,” said Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, the trade group which represents major U.S. airlines.

The parties have also been attempting to get the controllers classified as “essential,” a move that would make them not subject to furlough and a designation that they have had in previous budget skirmishes.

Earlier this week, the FAA said that up to 6,700 flights per day at the nation’s 13 busiest airports could be delayed in some fashion, warning that some airports including those in Atlanta, New York, and Sans Francisco, could see delays that stretch to several hours.

On Thursday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters that the sequester was “a blunt axe and we’re doing our best to manage the consequences.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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