Flight Delays Prompt End To Air Traffic Controller Furloughs

Following a week of complaints about sequester-caused flight delays, Congress quickly pushed through a bill letting the FAA shift around its budget to end furloughs for air traffic controllers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We also have some sequester news today. The House approved a bill, and the president says he'll sign it, to end the furlough of air traffic controllers. Short-staffed control towers translated into thousands of flight delays this week, all because of those automatic across-the-board spending cuts. NPR's Tamara Keith has that story.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The sequester was designed to be an awful, no-good way of cutting spending, automatic and across-the-board, right down to each specific activity, such a blunt tool that Congress would replace it with something better. That didn't happen. It kicked in March 1st and any public outcry was muted. That is, until Sunday, when the air traffic controller furloughs started and flight delays piled up.

It turns out, angry airlines and grumpy business travelers can get Congress to act fast.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID PRICE: Today, we're going to apply a much-needed Band-Aid.

KEITH: Congressman David Price is a Democrat from North Carolina and, like most Democrats, he thinks the whole sequester, not just this one small part, needs to be replaced.

PRICE: I want to address these crises as much as any member. I want to contain the damage. But damage control is not a budget policy.

KEITH: The bill doesn't give the Federal Aviation Administration more money. It simply gives it more flexibility so it can set its priorities and keep air traffic controllers on the job. It's something Republicans claim the FAA had all along. Charlie Dent is a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE DENT: This legislation provides the flexibility FAA needs and should have been asked for by the administration.

KEITH: The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, 361 to 41. And soon, passengers can go back to cursing the weather for their flight delays instead of Congress. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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