senate flight delays air traffic control
J. Scott Applewhite/APSen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, an author of legislation, passed by the Senate late Thursday, that ends air traffic controller furloughs, which have resulted in flight delays.
By Richard Cowan and Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate moved quickly late on Thursday to end air traffic controller furloughs that were causing widespread airline flight delays related to last month's automatic federal spending cuts.

Without any debate, the Senate unanimously passed legislation giving the Department of Transportation flexibility to use unspent funds to cover the costs of air traffic controllers and other essential employees at the Federal Aviation Administration.

The House of Representatives, which is expected to approve the measure, could take it up on Friday, capping a feverish effort by Congress to end the flight delays that were snarling traffic at major U.S. airports and angering travelers.

Some Senate aides said the measure would also give the FAA flexibility to keep open nearly 150 "contract towers" at smaller airports that are staffed by non-FAA employees who help control takeoffs and landings.

Explicit language to keep open those towers wasn't included in the measure, however, according to the aides, and it wasn't clear how the agency would handle the matter.

"I'm delighted that the Senate has just passed a bipartisan bill to resolve a serious problem confronting the American traveling public and our economy," said Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of a handful of senators who wrote the legislation.

The bill moved with lightning speed in the Senate where legislation often bogs down for weeks or months. It was passed after a day of furious negotiations between lawmakers and the Obama administration.

The bill, if passed by the House, would close another chapter in a series of Washington battles over budget and taxes that have been waged since 2011.

The cause of the air traffic controller furloughs was the controversial "sequestration" that took effect on March 1, requiring across-the-board spending cuts among most federal agencies. With those cuts starting to bite, a public backlash prompted Congress to reconsider, and fully fund high-profile FAA operations.

Lawmakers are eager to fix the air travel problem before they head out of town for next week's congressional recess. They are concerned about deepening public resentment over the delays caused by the furloughs of controllers.

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who also negotiated the legislation, applauded its quick passage, but added, "It does nothing for other essential government operations and employees that also desperately need relief."

Angry Travelers

Airline passengers have grown increasingly irritated over the past week with delays at major hubs like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Some have reported delays of several hours in takeoff times and planes being put in holding patterns in the air. Many pilots blame furloughs for landing delays.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said on Thursday that many of the 1,978 controller trainees were now working full shifts by themselves to help cover staffing shortages.

Airline executives had ratcheted up their complaints. "This is government not working -- capital letters, exclamation point -- when we're sitting here holding the traveling public hostage in the midst of sequestration," JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) Chief Executive Dave Barger said on a conference call on Thursday.

The FAA has said it had no alternative to furloughing controllers this week after Congress failed to come up with a budget deal that would have averted the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts between March 1 and Sept. 30.

At the same time, the FAA has emphasized that passenger safety isn't at risk. Airlines for America, the trade organization for U.S. airlines, also said on Thursday the furloughs hadn't created a safety issue.

While Republicans joined the effort for a quick fix, many were skeptical about whether the White House and FAA were taking advantage of flexibility they already had.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of maximizing the disruptions to try to shift budget blame on Republicans, an allegation the administration has denied. Republicans have created a Twitter hashtag, #Obamaflightdelays, for people to complain about the delays.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, sent a letter on Thursday to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking for internal documents discussing budget flexibilities. The Department of Transportation said it was reviewing the request.

But a congressional aide involved in the original automatic spending cut legislation that was enacted in August 2011 told Reuters the administration could not under current law shift money from outside accounts to fund the air traffic controller account.

Sequestration Fallout

Without the legislation, the FAA said it would have to furlough 47,000 employees for up to 11 days through Sept. 30 in order to save $637 million that is required by the sequestration.

Of those 47,000 workers, almost 15,000 are full-time air traffic controllers or trainees.


The FAA issued an update that said more than 863 delays in the system on Wednesday were attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furloughs.

An additional 2,132 delays were attributed to weather and other factors, the FAA said. The agency said it would work with airlines to minimize delays.

Airlines, many of which are reporting earnings this week, have pushed the government to quickly ease the flight delays caused by the furloughs.

Jeff Smisek, chairman and chief executive of United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL), said his company's network operations center was working around the clock to minimize the impact of fewer controllers.

"We are disappointed that the FAA chose this path, that maximizes customer disruptions and damage to airlines instead of choosing a less disruptive method to comply with the budget obligations," Smisek said on a conference call.

The proposal being weighed wouldn't spare other agencies and federal programs from the across-the-board reductions.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, David Lawder, Karen Jacobs and Nivedita Bhattacharjee; writing by Karey Van Hall.


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27 Comments

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rhanleyinv

There should be no new foreign Government or group $ given out by the President. Where are therse billions of $ coming from? Must be off budget expenditures while our citizens safety is in jeopardy.

April 26 2013 at 9:02 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rhanleyinv's comment
apartyof.omg.nojobs

DEPORT ALL ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS THAT O~BOMB~US LET "BREAK" INTO AMERICA TO BOMB N KILL N MAIM OUR AMERICAN CITIZENS~~START THIS MUSLIM CLOWNS IMPEACHMENT TRIAL NOWWWWW. !

April 26 2013 at 9:06 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
apartyof.omg.nojobs

IMPEACH THE MUSLIM CLOWN LIKE WE IMPEACHED INCOMPETENT CLINTOON ON DEC~20~1998

April 26 2013 at 9:00 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
girardjoe

If people had Jobs there would be more tax revenue and lower deficits
If people had Jobs there would be more revenue for Social Security
If people had Jobs there would be less crime and civil strife
If people had Jobs there would be more revenue for State and Local governments
If people had Jobs there would be less of a strain on Charities and Food Pantries
And where are these so called Job Creators? I guess they are flying on Air planes.
They Invest money overseas, create Jobs overseas, build a 6th house or buy a 12th car.
It's simple what we need are Jobs here in the USA.......why don't our politicians see this and do some thing about that? This is not a Democrat or Republican issue it's about us.

April 26 2013 at 8:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to girardjoe's comment
apartyof.omg.nojobs

LAST 5 PLUS YEARS NOW OF THE MUSLIM CLOWNS RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT~~RECORD FORECLOSURES~~RECORD JOB LOSSES N NOW RECORD BOMBINGS ~~YOU GOT WHAT YOU VOTED FOR~~THERE IS NO "HOPE" N NOTHING WILL "CHANGE". !

April 26 2013 at 9:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
composerr

What is at play in these furloughs and no children visiting the White House, is that a
Highly partisan Democrat Socialist Leaning President is selectively doing this in an effort
to place blame on the GOP for the Sequester that he initialized. It is Shameful!!!
None of this had to happen! They are spending MORE MONEY this year then they did
last. They just did not get any Increases.

This is the most deceitful President and Democratic Administration in the past 100 Years.
Obama is nothing but a Con Man with no conscience. That is why he has made all of
these outrageous statement to get elected and re-elected and has never shown any
regrets for his lying statements. For Shame

Wake up America if we are to survive as a nation.

an army combat veteran

April 26 2013 at 8:50 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to composerr's comment
apartyof.omg.nojobs

O~BOMB~US==INCOMPETENT~~~UNQUALIFIED~~~INEXPERIENCED~~~ARROGANT~~IGNORANT~~INCOMPETENT~~WITH RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT ~~RECORD FORECLOSURES~~RECORD JOB LOSSES FOR THE LAST 5 PLUS YEARS . !

April 26 2013 at 8:55 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
apartyof.omg.nojobs

Jan~20~09 ~~5 PLUS YEARS NOW OF RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT N RECORD FORECLOSURES N RECORD JOB LOSSES N NOW RECORD BOMBINGS N IT WILL BE 4 MORE YEARS OF THE SAME CRAP GARBAGE FROM THIS INCOMPETENT. UNEDUCATED MUSLIM CLOWN. !

April 26 2013 at 8:50 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
abacobandit

I knew that once the Democrats started hearing from their constituents - that this would happen.

They allow Obama to force cuts that harmed the people most for political gain, but don't want the blame for their actions when the people revolt - politics as usual.

April 26 2013 at 8:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to abacobandit's comment
J. R. Gilbert

It is true that Obama propsed the legislation that created the sequester, but it was Congress who legislated and passed the Legislation. The President has no power to write legislation. That is the responsibility of Congress.

I have seen and heard Republicans trying to blame Obama entirely for this legislation, but I have not heard of any Democrats denying their role. The legislation was passed by a majority of both Parties.

The Republican controlled House could have rejected Obama's proposal, but they chose not to. Now they want to deny their vote? That is total nonsense, and truly politics as usual, and I am not a Dem. I am an ex Republican turned Independent.

I never was and never will be a Democrat.

April 26 2013 at 8:54 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

If the FAA didn't have flexibility (cough, cough, bs, cough, cough) that was the Prez' fault. The GOP offered flexibility instead of across the board cuts and the Prez turned it down. Not only that, Senator Coburn read an e-mail from someone at the FAA who told the Senator that the FAA was trying to do everything it could to make sequester cuts hurt the public so the WH can deny it all they want. They were trying to force all union employees to take off the same day. Even the union was fighting that. Nope, this is pure politics and it all falls on the Dems. They can't even cut $ 85 billion. How do you EVER think the Dem plan (cutting $ 870 billion) would EVER materialize? That's right. It won't. Never trust a Democrat. Not only that, the FAA had plenty of time to tell Congress they couldn't move unspent funds into the controllers' account so this didn't have to be a problem. Nope, they chose to spring it on the public for maximum effect. So, what do you think of a President and a Party who will do anything, including hurting the public, for their own agenda (e.g. more taxes and spending)? Not much.

April 26 2013 at 8:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
awpaguy

This whole thing is one big joke being played on the American people by obama and his stooges that he appointed as department heads. The paltry amount of money being "cut" out of the nonexistant budget should have had no effect on the public what so ever. It's obama making sure that selective areas that directly effect the public are the ones that get cut so as to make it appear that the big bad republicans are the ones causing all the pain people may be feeling. The country picked him to stay in office, now they have to pay the price.

April 26 2013 at 8:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
shrinker31

New Flash from the WHouse The President announced that he is donated 5% of your salaries (American citizens) to end the flight delays
More on this later

April 26 2013 at 8:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lyleva

It's laughable that most Americans want action taken toward a balanced budget BUT most don't want any action that would impact them. Over 25% of the federal budget is spent on defense. I'd bet my entire savings that I could cut the Defenbse budgedt by 20% and not hurt the defense of the country 1%. I'd start my cutting many ceremonies for top brass, expensive fly-overs of military planes at sporting events and look closely, question the need for many military bases around the world as we maintain...not to mention the 104 golf courses that the Pentagon maintains.

April 26 2013 at 8:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to lyleva's comment
Nestor

Yes, and I bet I could cut the rest of the government bloat and waste by 80% and it would not hurt the country even 1% and it would get 80 million Americans off their asses and into the workforce! At least spending on defense is not welfare. It goes mostly as wages, health benefits and to buy equipment that ultimately provides jobs in industry for many of your friends. I would rather see $20 million spent on a jet fighter than $20 spent on food stamps.

April 26 2013 at 8:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

While I would agree military cuts have to be in the mix, why are you focusing ONLY on the military? Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are eating up 50% of the budget !!! And just wait until Obamacare is in full effect. Try checking out the video showing illegal immigrants want free health care for starters. It's going to be ugly.

April 26 2013 at 8:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply