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April 22, 2013

FAA furloughs kick in

NORMAN — Commercial airline flights moved smoothly throughout most of the country on Sunday, the first day air traffic controllers were subject to furloughs resulting from government spending cuts. But while the nightmarish flight delays and cancellations that the airline industry predicted would result from the furloughs did not materialize yet, the real test will come Monday, when traffic ramps up.

Information from the FAA and others showed that flying Sunday was largely uneventful, with most flights on time. There were delays in parts of Florida, but those were caused by thunderstorms.

Mark Duell at the flight tracking website FlightAware noted non-weather delays of 15 to 30 minutes at New York area airports, but he couldn’t say whether it was due to the furloughs or just typical New York traffic.

The trade group Airlines for America, which represents the airlines and had predicted a big traffic snarl, said Sunday evening that it was “not seeing a significant impact at this point.” A spokeswoman said the group would continue to monitor the situation, and urged flyers to stay in contact with their airlines.

The FAA said that “relatively good weather” and light traffic, which is typical of Sundays, helped keep delays in check. The agency said it would be working with airlines “to minimize the delay impacts of lower staffing” as the busy summer travel season approaches.

Government budget cuts that kicked in last month are forcing the FAA and other agencies to cut their spending. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

Friday, airline trade groups and the country’s biggest pilots union sued the FAA to try to stop the furloughs. They predicted that the furloughs would delay or cancel flights for as many as one out of every three airline passengers across the country. Airlines have also directed their customers to tell the FAA to find other ways to cut costs.

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