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FAA: Air traffic system to resume normal operations

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration said that the U.S. air traffic system will resume normal operations by this evening after lawmakers rushed a bill through Congress allowing the agency to withdraw furloughs of air traffic controllers and other workers.

The FAA said yesterday that it has suspended all employee furloughs and that traffic facilities will begin returning to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours. The furloughs were fallout from the $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts this spring.

The furloughs started to hit air traffic controllers last week, causing flight delays that left thousands of travelers frustrated and furious. Planes were forced to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

The FAA had to cut $637 million -- its share of the spending cuts that must be achieved by the end of the federal budget year on Sept. 30.

Flight delays piled up nationwide on Sunday and Monday of last week as the FAA kept planes on the ground because there weren't enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors. Cascading delays held up flights at some of nation's busiest airports, including New York and Washington. Air travel was smoother Tuesday.

Canceled flights probably led to lost revenue for airlines, according to longtime aviation consultant Daniel Kasper of Compass Lexicon. Even if airlines didn't incur the costs of fueling up planes and getting them off the ground, crews that were scheduled to work still had to be paid, he said.

The challenges last week probably cost airlines less than disruptions from a typical winter storm, said John F. Thomas, an aviation consultant with L.E.K. Consulting.

"I think the fact that it got resolved this week has minimized the cost as it was more the inconvenience factor," Thomas said. -- AP

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