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Furloughs to blame for expected airport delays

File of a passenger jet departing Washington's Reagan National AirportWASHINGTON — Flight delays of up to 3-1/2 hours are expected at some busy US airports this summer because of furloughs of air-traffic controllers, the top US aviation regulator warned yesterday.

The estimate from the Federal Aviation Administration is the first to detail, in minutes and hours, the potential delays from the agency’s decision to furlough 10 per cent of its staff, starting Sunday, as it struggles to meet budget cuts required under so-called sequestration.

Other groups, including the air-traffic controller’s union, have warned of potentially long delays and reduced capacity to handle airplanes, which could force airlines to cut flights.

But in contrast to those warnings, the FAA estimates were based on complex models that took into account different runways and tower configurations at numerous busy airports.

The average delay would be much shorter than 3-1/2 hours, and ranges widely depending on the airport, FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a briefing to reporters.

Huerta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared at a hastily arranged news conference at Transportation Department headquarters on Thursday, vowing to ensure the continued safety of US air travel despite the budget constraints.

“Safety will never be compromised in anything we do,” LaHood told reporters.

The meeting, however, underscored their frustration about having to furlough 47,000 FAA staff, close smaller air traffic control towers and inconvenience the flying public.

“We have looked far and wide at everything to make the reductions. We’ve looked at every contract. We’ve looked at every way possible to make reductions, but we cannot avoid furloughs,” LaHood said. (Reuters)

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