Air traffic controller furloughs likely to delay flights across U.S.

Apr 22 2013 - 11:49pm

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An American Airlines plane takes off at LAX International airport in Los Angeles on Monday, April 22, 2013. Some fliers headed to Los Angeles International Airport were met with delays yesterday on the first day of staffing cuts for air traffic controllers because of government spending reductions. Budget cuts that kicked in last month forced the FAA to give controllers extra days off. Commercial airline flights moved smoothly throughout most of the country on Sunday, April 21, 2013, the first day air traffic controllers were subject to furloughs resulting from government spending cuts, though some delays appeared in the late evening in and around New York. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
An American Airlines plane takes off at LAX International airport in Los Angeles on Monday, April 22, 2013. Some fliers headed to Los Angeles International Airport were met with delays yesterday on the first day of staffing cuts for air traffic controllers because of government spending reductions. Budget cuts that kicked in last month forced the FAA to give controllers extra days off. Commercial airline flights moved smoothly throughout most of the country on Sunday, April 21, 2013, the first day air traffic controllers were subject to furloughs resulting from government spending cuts, though some delays appeared in the late evening in and around New York. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SALT LAKE CITY -- Flights ran smoothly out of Salt Lake City on Monday, but that could soon change, as aviation officials expect that air traffic controller furloughs will cause delays of commercial flights at airports all over the nation.

Federal Aviation Administration employee furloughs began Sunday as government budget cuts that kicked in last month are forcing the administration to cut its spending.

FAA officials say they will furlough 47,000 agency employees as a result of sequestration, a number that includes nearly 15,000 controllers.

Those employees will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said planes will have to take off and land less frequently to avoid overworking the controllers that remain on duty.

With the furloughs in effect, the FAA warns travelers they could see delays of just a few minutes to a few hours.

According to the FAA's website, aircraft headed to the Los Angeles Airport were delayed by an average of three hours and seven minutes for part of Sunday evening, which was Day 1 of the furloughs.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said operations at any given airport are affected not only by that airport's control tower staffing but also by staffing at the nearest FAA approach control, which typically handles arrivals and departures from multiple airports within a given area.

"Controller staffing issues at the approach control will affect the flow into and out of nearby airports," he said.

In general, Kenitzer said, 10 percent of controllers at any facility will be on furlough every day.

Aside from late arrivals and departures caused by the staffing shortage, delays may also result from other traffic management initiatives, such as increasing spacing between planes, Kenitzer said.

Barbara Gann, spokesman for Salt Lake City International Airport, said flights on Sunday and Monday ran as they normally would.

"We haven't experienced any extraordinary delays yet," Gann said.

Ogden-Hinckley Airport Manager Royal Eccles said commercial flights out of Ogden won't be affected by the furloughs.

"None of our people are getting furloughed, so we won't be impacted at all," Eccles said, while noting that the airport's control tower is scheduled to close later this spring as part of a massive, nationwide closure of towers implemented by the FAA under the same spending cuts that necessitated the furloughs.

Without offering specific details, Kenitzer said that during the furloughs, the administration will be working with the airlines and will "use a comprehensive set of air traffic management tools to minimize the delay impacts of lower staffing as we move into the busy summer travel season."

Visit www.fly.faa.gov to get current delay information for your local airport.

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