Senate passes bill to stop FAA air traffic controller furloughs

This week, more than 3,000 delays in the system were attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough.

After thousands of delays this past week, the Senate passed a bill to eliminate air traffic controller furloughs implemented recently by the Federal Aviation Administration. The bill went to the House of Representatives on Friday where it gained approval in a 361-to-41 vote.

The controller furloughs came in response to the March 1 budget sequestration. To counter the budget issue, the FAA planned to reduce expenditures by roughly $600 million for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a letter from DOT and FAA officials.

To accomplish this, the FAA proposed closing nearly 100 air traffic control towers, eliminating midnight shifts in more than 60 towers across the country, furloughing the vast majority of the FAA's employees and reducing some maintenance and equipment provisioning

The bill, titled "The Reducing Flight Delays Act," would allow the Department of Transportation to shift $253 million in funds to the FAA's operations to help ease the burden the budget sequester caused the airline industry.

"These irresponsible cuts have already caused widespread delays to the air transportation system and are expected to get worse," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a Thursday press release. "Our bipartisan bill would restore the funding for these essential programs, and I am pleased that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that this is an effective, workable solution."

The bill should reduce flight delays while maintaining safety in the national airspace. Additionally, the bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to fully fund and continue operating the contract towers program, according to Collins' press release.

The air traffic control tower at Columbia Regional Airport is currently one of 149 control towers in the nation slated to lose funding June 15.

The FAA released a statement Tuesday to announce the implementation of traffic management initiatives at airports nationwide due to the 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 statement said.

Some measures taken at airports include having controller space planes farther apart so they could manage traffic better. This caused delays at airports in multiple major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, according to FAA news releases from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

On Monday, more than 1,200 delays "in the system were attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough." Then on Tuesday, more than 1,025 delays occurred and more than 863 delays on Wednesday, according to the FAA news releases.

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