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Senate moves to end air controller furloughs

WASHINGTON -- With flight delays mounting, the Senate passed legislation last night to end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.

Approval came without dissent, and long after many senators had left the Capitol for a week's vacation. A House vote is expected as early as .

Under the measure, the Federal Aviation Administration would gain authority to transfer up to $253 million from accounts that are flush into other programs, to "prevent reduced operations and staffing" through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Officials said that was likely to be enough to restore full staffing for the furloughed controllers, as well as prevent the closing of small airport towers.

For the White House and Senate Democrats, the discussions on legislation relating to one relatively small slice of the $85 billion in "sequestration" spending cuts marked a shift in position in a long-running struggle with Republicans over budget issues. Similarly, the turn of events marked at least modest vindication of a decision by the House GOP last winter to finesse some budget struggles in order to focus public attention on the across-the-board cuts in hopes they would gain leverage over President Barack Obama.

The FAA said there had been at least 863 flights delayed on Wednesday "attributable to staffing reductions" from the furlough. The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union that represents FAA employees, reported a number of incidents it said were due to the furloughs. In one case, it said several flights headed for Long Island MacArthur Airport were diverted Wednesday when a piece of equipment failed. -- AP

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