After a week of airline delays and cancellations caused by sequester-imposed furloughs, President Obama is expected to sign a bill that will divert money into the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This measure will overturn the mandatory air-traffic control furloughs and will allow the FAA to prevent the impending closure of 149 air-traffic control towers.
Many predicted the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s mandatory employee furlough would cause problems at airports, but few expected it to be this drastic. This past week, most passengers showed up for their flights on time, checked in, and then were notified that their flight would be delayed for three hours.
According to FlightStats.com, the figures this past week were:
- Friday, April 26 – 172 flights canceled, 5,870 delays
- Thursday, April 25 – 220 flights canceled, 6,710 delays
- Wednesday, April 24 – 406 flights canceled, 6,869 delays
- Tuesday, April 23 – 385 flights canceled, 6,396 delays
- Monday, April 22 – 404 flights canceled, 7,027 delays
- Sunday, April 21 – 207 flights canceled, 4,842 delays
On Thursday morning, 30 protesters from the group Americans for Prosperity showed up outside of Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Their main slogan was directed at President Obama, stating “keep your politics off our planes.” After contacting various airports where they wished to stage protests, Americans for Prosperity were only allowed at Reagan National Airport, which forbid noise amplification and large groups.
Airline CEOs also launched their own protest and began their own campaign to remove the effects of the sequester with the website Don’t Ground America. The site encourages travelers to send a message to the Senate and the House, asking them to end FAA-imposed flight delays.
In a quick response, the Senate wrote a bill to end furloughs for air traffic controllers in one day. The bill was passed without a vote after 8 p.m. Thursday, when most Senators had left for a week-long recess. On Friday, The House lawmakers voted 361-41 in favor of the bill, before starting its recess. The bill is now on President Obama’s desk for signature and White House spokesman Jay Carney has confirmed that Obama intends to sign the bill.
Upon signing, the DOT will be able to shift $253 million to the FAA’s operations account According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor these funds should also help avert closing of 149 small airport control towers.
The additional funds should also end the furloughs for FAA safety inspectors and other technicians. Once the president signs the bill, it’s expected that the airline delays of this past week will get back to normal in 24 to 36 hours. This will offset the current problem until the first of October, when the budget cuts of the next fiscal year will be in effect.
While this will alleviate the problems in airports and the skies, there is a concern that it is only a quick fix for a serious budget problem. Other groups impacted by the sequester, including the FDA and Meals on Wheels, are outraged by the Senate’s ability to act so quickly on this issue. While small organizations have worked for years to pass some bills, this one passed in a day, and some believe these funds could be better used for issues such as medical care.
Follow along with the sequester saga, with our recent reports:
- The Flight Delays of the Sequester Begin
- How the Sequester Will Impact Travel as FAA Delays Cuts
- Watch Peter’s segment on how airlines are preparing for the sequester and what it means
- Will pilots be overburdened if 149 towers are shut down?
By Stephanie Ervin for PeterGreenberg.com