Furloughs over, so air controllers (and flights) back on schedule

by Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

A week after federal officials launched job furloughs at air traffic control towers, the controllers are back on a regular work schedule — and airline delays are now caused primarily by severe weather.

The number of delays over the week averaged about 5,800 per day, according to a report from Flightstats.com, a website that monitors flight delays. The greatest number of delays came last Monday, April 22, when slightly more than 7,000 flights were delayed, according to Flightstats.

On Sunday, the nation’s airports reported 4,800 delays, according to the website. By Monday morning, the only significant delays reported were attributed to heavy cloud cover at Philadelphia International Airport.

To cut about $636 million from its budget, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered air traffic controllers to take one day off of work for every two-week period, reducing its workforce by about 10%.

The furloughs caused takeoff delays of hundreds of planes when congestion in the skies grew heavy. The airports that endured the most delays were LaGuardia, Newark Liberty, Los Angeles International, John F. Kennedy and O’Hare International.

A bill approved by the House on Friday and sent to the president allowed the FAA to transfer $253 million from infrastructure improvement funds to put furloughed air traffic controllers back to work. Senate officials said the bill also prevented closures at 149 control towers, many in rural areas, that rely on contract air controllers.

The FAA announced Saturday that it had suspended all furloughs and returned to normal operations Sunday.