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Senate Attempts to Remedy Flight Delays
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As if flying isn’t bad enough, the federal government’s recent spending cuts means that travelers are spending more time stuck on the ground or in the air. Air traffic controller furloughs have caused enormous delays at major airports across the country, and the United States Senate is working furiously to remedy the situation that has left thousands of flights delayed or circling above airports hours beyond any scheduled departure or arrival times.

The furloughs, which are essentially intermittent leave for federal employees implemented to reduce operating costs, have been widespread throughout several federal agencies, but the furloughs for air traffic controllers have been particularly noticeable. Air traffic controllers are Federal Aviation Administration employees tasked with monitoring the airways and granting permission for private planes to take off and land. By reducing the number of available air traffic controllers and relying on under qualified trainees to pick up some of the slack, the FAA has created a bottleneck for departing and arriving flights, which is causing tremendous delays for airline customers across the country.

  
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Though dozens of other agencies are facing the same cutbacks currently plaguing the FAA, the issues plaguing airports has been the focus of media and political scrutiny, and is the cutback that seems to be affecting the public in the most prominent manner. The FAA was forced to make $637 million in cuts, and closed 149 air traffic control towers across the United States.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta said that his agency would “refuse to sacrifice safety even if it means less efficient operations.” Despite the tower closures, furloughs, and delays, Reuters reports that the safety of the country’s airways is the same as it was before the cuts.

Just before their recess, the Senate unanimously passed legislation on Thursday night that is expected to relieve the situation. The legislation grants the Department of Transportation some flexibility on the use of unspent funds in the hopes that they can cover the costs of bringing back additional air traffic controllers and other essential employees, and keep contract air traffic control towers open across the country.

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The initial crisis was the result of Congress’ failure to create a budget, resulting in $85 billion in cuts spread across every federal agency. Though the Senate’s new legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama shortly, will repair some of the damage done to the airline industry, political observers say that the initial cuts were damaging to every federal agency, and that the FAA’s troubles are only the most public.

West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller told Reuters that, while he appreciated the legislation’s quick passage, “it does nothing for other essential government operations and employees that also desperately need relief.”





 

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