Furloughs blamed for 1,200 flight delays
BY MATTHEW L. WALD, New York Times,
WASHINGTON -- The furlough of air traffic controllers delayed more than 1,200 flights on Monday, the first weekday of the unpaid leaves, the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday, as lawmakers criticized the agency for how it was handling the automatic budget cuts.
Apart from the furloughs, the FAA counted more than 1,400 delays for weather and other reasons. On Tuesday, it said there were delays in the New York area and in Washington because of "staffing challenges," but it did not say what fraction of the delays were due to furloughs.
"Travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues," the agency said in a statement. The staffing problems are mostly in radar rooms, not control towers, it added.
There are 30,000 to 35,000 commercial flights a day in the United States. Some travelers were delayed a few minutes, but others missed connections and were delayed for hours. Some later flights were delayed or canceled because the airplanes they were to use had arrived so late.
FlightStats.com, a private company that monitors airline performance, counted nearly 7,000 delays on Monday, from all causes. A company spokeswoman, Sarena Regazzoni, said the number "seems heightened but not excessive."
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the ranking Republican member, sent a letter to the transportation secretary seeking more information and complaining that "the administration's response to our inquiries has consistently been slow and disturbingly limited."
The two senators said the FAA administrator, Michael P. Huerta, had provided "only general statements" to the committee about how it would handle budget cuts resulting from the so-called sequester, while giving a detailed briefing to the airlines.
The airlines, though, complained that their briefing was cursory. Airline officials said the FAA had passed out copies of an analysis of likely delays, but then demanded all the copies back.