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Assessing 'sequestration' effects as air traffic controller furloughs begin

An air traffic controller specialist works at the

An air traffic controller specialist works at the Frederick Municipal Airport control tower in Frederick, Maryland. (March 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

LaGuardia and Kennedy airports Sunday experienced more than one-hour delays as furloughs for air traffic controllers began as part of federal spending cuts, but the Port Authority said slowdowns were not the result of austerity measures.

LaGuardia saw delays of as much as 45 minutes by midafternoon, according to an online flight-tracking map hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It's not uncommon for LaGuardia to have delays because of volume, Port Authority spokesman Chris Valens said.

"We are not seeing any sequestration delays today, but Sunday is usually a lighter day for travel," he said.

Newark Liberty Airport reported volume delays of up to 29 minutes.

On Thursday, FAA officials said it would begin furloughing employees, including controllers, to trim $637 million from the budget. The cuts were part of across-the-board reductions ordered by Congress.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta said they were cutting air traffic controller staffing by 10 percent, asking employees to take a furlough day every other week.

The FAA would not comment specifically on regional implications Sunday, but agency spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen issued a statement saying "relatively good weather throughout the country and light traffic helped minimize air traffic delays."

Airline groups called the sequester shortsighted and said it would cause massive delays.

"Please note that there will likely be higher chance of delays tomorrow and later in the week as traffic volume increases," Doug Church, director of communications for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said in an email.

On Friday, Airlines for America and other groups filed a lawsuit against the FAA and DOT in the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals to halt the furloughs.

That same day, 11 transportation groups sent a letter to the White House saying, as in the past, furloughs should not apply to essential personnel.

"These front line safety professionals perform an essential service in facilitating commerce in our country by maintaining a safe and efficient National Airspace System," the letter read.

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