Congress Passes Bill to Remedy Sequester-Fueled Flight Delays

Threatened with a rash of flight delays stemming from budget sequestration, the U.S. Congress on Friday passed bi-partisan legislation that will give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) additional funding with which to avoid furloughs for air traffic control personnel.

The legislation — the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 — will re-appropriate grant funding previously earmarked for U.S. airports in order to pay air traffic controllers, who would otherwise be forced to take 11 days of unpaid leave before the end of the fiscal year, leaving U.S. air traffic vulnerable to heavy delays.

The bill, which quickly cleared both the House and the Senate, now heads to President Barack Obama, who has promised to sign it.

“The challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting; not only is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration compounds the problem,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “It is important that sequestration is implemented in a way that ensures safety and minimizes the impact on the traveling public as well as jobs in the hospitality and airline industries. FAA recently announced its plans to achieve savings by implementing furloughs, the closure of contract towers and the elimination of midnight services, among other cuts. These irresponsible cuts have already caused widespread delays to the air transportation system and are expected to get worse.”

The U.S. Travel Association applauded the Reducing Flight Delays Act, but expressed concerns over its funding source.

“The … legislation that eliminates air traffic employee furloughs through the end of September is welcomed news for the travel community, especially ahead of a season when air travel ramps up and millions of flyers depend on an efficient system. There is simply too much at stake to let this problem go unaddressed: a potential $9 billion in economic output and 83,000 U.S. jobs,” reads a statement from the association. “While this legislation averts the short-term crisis, we are concerned with provisions in the bill that allow airport infrastructure funds to be transferred to air traffic control services.

“U.S. airport infrastructure is approaching a dire state. Before the FAA furloughs, 20 percent of flights within the U.S. were delayed or cancelled. According to FAA projections, U.S. airports will be unable to meet future demands of a globalized economy without increased investment beyond what is available today. At a time when we should be modernizing our infrastructure to improve efficiency, capacity and U.S. global competitiveness, sequestration-related issues should not be solved on the backs of airports. We urge the Department of Transportation to do everything in its power to find appropriate savings to fund air traffic controllers and avoid transferring funds away from critical airport infrastructure.”

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