FAA Warns Of Airport Delays As Sequester Cuts Take Hold

The Federal Aviation Administration reported some air traffic delays on Monday. The agency says the sequester has forced it to cut the work hours of air traffic controllers by 10 percent and it's warning air travelers to expect delays as a result.

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Today, the Federal Aviation Administration said it's beginning to see delays in air traffic due to the budget cuts known as sequestration, and those delays are affecting some of the busiest airports. The FAA says it has been forced to cut its employees work hours by 10 percent, and that includes air traffic controllers. NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The FAA says it's seen what it calls staffing challenges at New York, Dallas, Jacksonville and Los Angeles, and controllers have been forced to space planes further apart as a result. It said there were 400 delays on Sunday alone that can be attributed to staffing issues. Dan Baker is CEO of flightaware.com which tracks airplane traffic.

DAN BAKER: What's happening is there's slowdown throughout the day as a result of their craft holding or departing late due to airspace that's too congested for the fewer number of controllers. And as a result, there's going to be cascading delays.

ZARROLI: The FAA said flights had been delayed going into and out of the New York City area. Lilia Bell(ph) was heading to New York from Atlanta today.

LILIA BELL: I'm flying back during rush hour on Thursday so yeah, we'll see how it goes. Any time you fly, you just have to hope for the best.

ZARROLI: FAA officials say the delays are happening because some 1,500 air traffic controllers had been forced to take a one-day furlough during every two-week pay period. The furloughs are necessary, the FAA says, because of the mandatory federal budget cuts that took effect March 1st when Congress couldn't agree on a deficit reduction plan. But Jean Medina of the industry trade group Airlines for America says the FAA could reduce its budget in other places.

JEAN MEDINA: We think that there are other areas they can look at without impacting the efficiency and the safety of the national airspace.

ZARROLI: That view has been echoed by some congressional critics. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Republican Bill Shuster, says the FAA ought to be able to handle the recent budget cuts without disrupting the entire system. But the FAA says it has no choice but to reduce work hours because most of its budget goes to personnel costs. And it says it is trying to work with airlines to minimize delays, but it's also encouraging passengers to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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