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FAA: Worker furloughs contribute to flight delays at Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark

An air traffic controller works in the tower

An air traffic controller works in the tower at Kennedy Airport. Furloughs of air traffic controllers began Sunday, April 21, 2013, under a government austerity plan, and travelers are being advised to expect flight delays. Credit: Craig Ruttle, 2012

Workers furloughed from two air traffic control centers on Long Island contributed to air travel delays topping two hours in some cases at New York City airports Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Federal spending reductions, known as "sequestration," forced air traffic controllers at New York Center in Ronkonkoma, and at the Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury to take a day off without pay.

The FAA Monday wouldn't say how many controllers were on furlough, but the agency said in a statement that it was experiencing "staffing challenges" in New York; Fort Worth, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Los Angeles. Nationwide, about 10 percent of the controller workforce will be on furlough.

At the New York City area's three major airports, windy weather at LaGuardia Airport and runway and taxiway maintenance at Kennedy Airport also played roles in delays.

Arriving flights at LaGuardia were delayed about an hour and 40 minutes Monday, and inbound flights to Kennedy were delayed two hours and 45 minutes. Things weren't much better at Newark Liberty International, where arrival delays topped an hour and 20 minutes.

"Controllers will space planes farther apart so they can manage traffic with current staff, which will lead to delays at airports, including New York's LaGuardia," the FAA said in a statement.

Departure delays Monday ranged from 15 minutes to a half-hour at the three major airports. Air traffic controller furloughs began Sunday, and about 400 flight delays nationwide among thousands of flights were attributed to the furloughs, the FAA said.

More than 760 air traffic controllers work at FAA facilities in the New York region, including 18 at Republic Airport in Farmingdale and 19 at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. More than 390 work at New York Center in Ronkonkoma and another 200 work at TRACON.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers union, said that two days of flight delays show that furloughs must end.

"Even with the hard work and dedication of controllers forced to cover for their furloughed colleagues, delays are expected to worsen throughout the week," said Doug Church, a union spokesman. "Steps should be taken to cancel or postpone the furloughs."

Mandatory budget cuts started March 1 after Democrats and Republicans in Congress failed to reach agreement on a long-term federal budget-cutting plan. The FAA's spending has to be cut by $637 million. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough its 15,000 air traffic controller. All the agency's 47,000 employees are also subject to furloughs.

Each FAA employee will lose a day of work every other week.

With Emily C. Dooley

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