FAA staff cuts rolled back after turbulent week
US Congress votes to restore some funding to aviation agency after waits anger travellers
On behalf of steaming-mad air travellers in the United States - some forced to wait hours or have their flights cancelled - the US Congress has given the Federal Aviation Administration special dispensation to recall furloughed air traffic controllers.
The furloughs were linked to steep "sequester" federal spending cuts that took effect last month, with some 13,000 air traffic controllers ordered to take two unpaid days off per month through the remainder of the fiscal year.
The legislation provides the FAA with some US$253 million through October "to prevent reduced operations and staffing" as a result of the arbitrary cuts, which came about when lawmakers failed to reach a broad budget deal this year.
The FAA had no choice but to cut US$637 million as its share of US$85 billion in automatic, government-wide spending cuts that must be achieved by the end of the federal budget year on September 30.
Flight delays piled up across the country on Sunday and on Monday last week as the FAA kept planes on the ground because there were not enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors. Cascading delays held up flights at some of nation's busiest airports, including New York, Baltimore and Washington.
Delta Air Lines cancelled about 90 flights on Monday because of worries about delays. Just about every passenger was rebooked on another Delta flight within a couple of hours. Air travel was smoother on Tuesday.
Things could have been worse. A lot of people who had planned to fly last week changed their plans when they heard that air travel might be difficult, according to long-time aviation consultant Daniel Kasper of Compass Lexecon.
"Essentially what happened from an airline's perspective is that people who were going to travel didn't travel," he said.
But cancelled flights likely led to lost revenue for airlines since crews still had to be paid.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, The Christian Science Monitor