NEW YORK: The Federal Aviation Administration said that the U.S. air traffic system will resume normal operations by this evening after lawmakers rushed a bill through Congress allowing the agency to withdraw furloughs of air traffic controllers and other workers.
The FAA said Saturday that it has suspended all employee furloughs and that traffic facilities will begin returning to regular staffing levels by tonight. The furloughs were fallout from the $85 billion in automatic-across-the-board spending cuts this spring. The bill, passed on Friday, allows the FAA to move as much as $253 million within its budget to areas that will allow it to prevent reduced operations and staffing.
The furloughs started to hit air traffic controllers last week, causing flight delays that left thousands of travelers frustrated and furious. Planes were forced to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
The FAA had no choice but to cut $637 million as its share of $85 billion in automatic, government-wide spending cuts that must be achieved by the end of the federal budget year on Sept. 30.
Flight delays piled up across the country last Sunday and Monday as the FAA kept planes on the ground because there weren’t enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors. Cascading delays held up flights at some of nation’s busiest airports, including New York, Baltimore and Washington. Delta Air Lines canceled about 90 flights Monday because of worries about delays. Just about every passenger was rebooked on another Delta flight within a couple of hours. Air travel was smoother Tuesday.
Things could have been worse. A lot of people who had planned to fly last week changed their plans when they heard that air travel might be difficult, according to longtime aviation consultant Daniel Kasper of Compass Lexicon.
“Essentially what happened from an airline’s perspective is that people who were going to travel didn’t travel,” he said. But canceled flights likely led to lost revenue for airlines. Even if they didn’t have to incur some of costs of fueling up planes and getting them off the ground, crews that were already scheduled to work still had to be paid.
“One week isn’t going to kill them, but had it gone on much longer, it would have been a significant hit on their revenues and profits,” Kasper said.