The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s furloughs have officially begun, resulting in delays of more than an hour and a half at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports on Monday, and about 400 delays across the country on Sunday–the first day of the staffing cuts.
The furloughs, or temporary unpaid employee leaves, are the result of the nearly $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts–known as the sequester–that began in March of this year. $637 million of those cuts have to come from the FAA’s budget, forcing the the administration to furlough 47,000 employees for up to 11 days between now and the end of the fiscal year.
The result? About 15,000 fewer air traffic controllers, more space between flights, and ultimately, longer delays for passengers. Some southbound flights out of New Jersey didn’t even make it to their destination and had to be sent back because the Washington area air traffic control system was just too overwhelmed, said Raymond Adams, president of the air traffic controllers union at New Jersey’s Newark airport, in a tweet.
On Friday, the airline industry and the nation’s largest pilots’ union filed a lawsuit against the FAA over its decision to furlough air traffic controllers, arguing that the administration could cut its budget in other ways. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that furloughs were inevitable, given the way the FAA’s operations budget is structured.
“The FAA, unlike other agencies, is personnel-heavy,” said Carney during Monday’s White House briefing. “When 70% of your budget–of your operating budget–is personnel, you cannot avoid, when the cuts are as deep as they are in the sequester, the kinds of actions that are taken–these furloughs. That’s the unfortunate fact of arbitrary, across-the-board cuts like this.”