FAA furloughs kick in, flight delays pile up - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

FAA furloughs kick in, flight delays pile up

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CHICAGO (Associated Press) -

It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers. Flight delays piled up all along the East Coast Monday as thousands of air traffic controllers were forced to take an unpaid day off because of federal budget cuts.

Some flights into New York, Baltimore and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground because there weren't enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors.

SEE: Chicago Airport Status

One out of every five flights at New York's LaGuardia International scheduled to take off before noon on Monday was delayed 15 minutes or more, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Last Monday morning, just 2 percent of LaGuardia's flights were delayed. The situation was similar at Washington's Reagan National Airport, in Newark, N.J. and in Philadelphia.

Some flights were late by two hours or more.

For instance, the 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle from Washington to New York pushed back from the gate six minutes early but didn't take off until 9:58 a.m. The plane landed at 10:48 a.m. -- more than two and a half hours late.

If travelers instead took Amtrak's 8 a.m. Acela Express train from Washington, they arrived in New York at 10:42 a.m. -- 4 minutes early.

The furloughs are part of mandatory budget cuts that kicked in on March 1 after Democrats and Republicans missed a deadline to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.

FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

Critics have said the FAA could reduce its budget in other spots that wouldn't delay travelers.

Monday is typically one of the busiest days at airports with many business travelers setting out for a week on the road. The FAA's controller cuts -- a 10 percent reduction of its staff -- went into effect Sunday but the full force wasn't felt until Monday morning.

Some travel groups have warned that the disruptions could hurt the economy.

"If these disruptions unfold as predicted, business travelers will stay home, severely impacting not only the travel industry but the economy overall," the Global Business Travel Association warned the head of the FAA, Michael P. Huerta, in a letter Friday.

Deborah Seymour was one of the first fliers to face the headaches.

She was supposed to fly from Los Angles to Tucson, Ariz., Sunday night. First her 9:55 p.m. flight was delayed four hours. Then at 2 a.m., Southwest Airlines canceled it.

"It's pretty discouraging that Congress can't get it together and now it's reached the point that we can't get on an airplane and fly," Seymour said.

One thing working in fliers' favor Monday was relatively good weather at most of the country's major airports. A few wind gusts in New York added to some delays, but generally there were clear skies and no major storms.

Delta Air Lines said it was "disappointed" in the furloughs and warned travelers Monday to expect delays in the following cities: New York, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Many flights heading to Florida were seeing delays of up to an hour.

Raymond Adams, president of the air traffic controllers union at New Jersey's Newark airport, said on Twitter than a few flights out of Newark to the south got sent back to Newark because the Washington area air traffic control system was overwhelmed.

The FAA has also furloughed other critical employees including airline and airport safety inspectors.

The country's airlines and some lawmakers have suggested the White House is causing misery for fliers to put pressure on Republicans in Congress to rescind the cuts. They say the FAA is ignoring other ways to cut its $16 billion budget. Two airline trade associations and the nation's largest pilots union filed a lawsuit Friday asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to halt the furloughs. No hearing date has been set.

In a letter to the FAA Friday, Delta's general counsel Ben Hirst asked the agency to reconsider the furloughs, saying it could make the cuts elsewhere and could transfer funds from "non-safety activities" to support the FAA's "core mission of efficiently managing the nation's airspace."

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF AVIATION:

O'Hare International Airport is the heart of our national aviation system, serving as a key hub for two of the largest carriers in the world, United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as being a major port of entry into the U.S.

The airport's ability to efficiently and safely accommodate thousands of flights each day is essential to the traveling public, businesses and our economy.

As of 10:30 this morning, some airlines at O'Hare reported delays of 30 minutes or more to the Florida and New York areas. At Midway, airlines reported minor delays of 30 minutes. None of the delays appear to be attributed to FAA furlough issues in the Chicago area.

A sizeable investment has been made to improve the airport's efficiency and capacity through the O'Hare Modernization Program, including construction of a north air traffic control tower and runway in 2008.

We hope the FAA furloughs in Chicago can be avoided so that O'Hare can continue to operate at its maximum level of efficiency for the national aviation system.

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION:

The current furloughs of air traffic controllers may be due to unique and unusual circumstances but after a single day of delays throughout the aviation system, it's clear they should be halted immediately. On Sunday, the first day of the furloughs, lengthy delays at major airports in New York and Los Angeles inconvenienced passengers and contributed to further delays across the country despite mostly good weather and flying conditions. The delays could have been worse had the controllers not stayed after their shifts at key facilities like LAX Tower and Atlanta Terminal Radar Approach Control. Controllers did their jobs yesterday by keeping things moving safely, and as best they could manage during these usual circumstances, efficiently.

Even with the hard work and dedication of controllers forced to cover for their furloughed colleagues, delays are expected to worsen throughout the week. Rather than allowing the world's safest and most efficient national airspace system to slowly degrade, steps should be taken to cancel or postpone the furloughs until a solution that keeps controllers on the job full time can be found.

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With reports from Joan Lowy in Washington and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles.

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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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