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Air traffic controller furloughs, flight delays fuel blame game in Washington

April 23, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Airlines and members of Congress on Tuesday urged the Federal Aviation Administration to find other ways to reduce spending instead of forcing air traffic controllers to take furloughs.

Airlines are worried about the long-term costs late flights will have on their budgets.

Long lines were seen at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday. The departure board showed few canceled flights, but hidden beneath the information was more than 60 flight delays. Flight tracker website FlightView.com showed roughly 30 percent of LAX departures as "late" or "very late."

The Federal Aviation Administration is blaming the delays on the cross-the-board federal budget cuts that forced the furloughs of nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers.

The air traffic controllers union says fewer controllers means things will slow down on the tarmac and in the air.

"The FAA has made it quite clear that they're not going to dump all this aircraft on workforce, so they're going to incrementally slow it down based on the staffing that they have. So we're going to be short, you're going to get delayed," said Mike Foote with the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers.

But Los Angeles World Airports officials said Tuesday's delays were normal, mostly within the 30 minutes or less that fliers usually see at LAX. That hasn't stopped the FAA from issuing more warnings.

"Travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather related issues," the FAA said in a statement. "Controllers will space planes farther apart so they can manage traffic with current staff, which will lead to delays at airports including DFW, Las Vegas and LAX."

Meantime, some Senate Republicans are blasting the FAA, calling this a problem that could have been avoided.

"I believe that this is a manufactured crisis. There are many options that the FAA itself and the Department of Transportation as a whole has to avoid this impact, this disastrous impact, on the traveling public," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

And it's that traveling public that is caught in the crossfire. Airline passengers are frustrated with the prospect of even more lines at airports.

"I think it's definitely more politics. I don't think it's necessary. I'm sure there are other ways to take care of the problems," said passenger Jill Furniss.

FAA officials said they had no choice but to furlough the air traffic controllers and close air traffic control towers at some small airports. They said it was the only way they could meet the requirements of the sequester spending cuts. The furloughs, which kicked in on Sunday, are expected to run through September.


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