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Airline passengers could feel impact of FAA cuts


Stephens Media

Lengthy delays are not expected at Hawaii’s airports despite thousands of air traffic controllers nationwide being forced to take furloughs because of budget cuts.

“Hawaii airports are not among the airports where we expect to see serious delays on a daily basis,” said Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration Western Region spokesman.

“Depending on the time of day, the weather and traffic conditions at other airports, and staffing at FAA facilities that handle aircraft arriving at and departing from in Hawaii, it’s possible that delays still could affect flight schedules in Hawaii,” he said.

In other words, he said, flights departing Hawaii could be delayed by staffing issues at destination airports or FAA facilities. The same goes for flights departing the mainland U.S. for Hawaii.

A check of the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center on Tuesday afternoon indicated a maximum delay of 15 minutes for departures at Kona International Airport because of taxiing and gate holds. It also showed a possible 15-minute delay in arrivals. The delays were not attributed to staffing issues.

The same delays were also listed for Honolulu International Airport, Kahului Airport on Maui, and Molokai Airport on Molokai. Data for Hilo International Airport and Lihue Airport, on Kauai, were not available.

Some of the worst delays were reported at airports in the Northeast as well as at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, according to the center. At Boston’s Logan International Airport, New York’s La Guardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago O’Hare departures were delayed nearly two hour due to staffing issues

Despite the delays, airlines Tuesday afternoon reported no significant issues in Hawaii operations relating to the sequestration, but some did note possible delays because of normal ground operations and weather.

“There’s no delays so far,” said Keoni Wagner, vice president of public affairs at Hawaiian Airlines. “We’re hoping it will continue to be a somewhat modest issue.”

However, he said, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport was experiencing long lines at security checkpoints that could impact flight times.

American Airlines Spokesperson Mary Frances Fagan said the airline “is not experiencing any significant issues in operating beyond normal ground and weather delays.”

Alaska Airlines Spokesperson Marianne Lindsey said none of the airline’s flights to Hawaii were affected by the FAA employee furloughs due to sequestration.

Nonetheless, furloughs are resulting in some delays and cancellations for flights departing Los Angeles International Airport bound for other West Coast airports. Alaska Airlines flights bound for Hawaii do not depart from Los Angeles, she said.

Contingency plans, such as using a different airport to land and then busing passengers to their original airport, are in place to ensure fewer delays, Lindsey said. That is currently happening in California, where Alaska Airlines has opted to land some flights at LA/Ontario International Airport and bus passengers approximately 40 minutes back to Los Angeles International Airport.

“We’re making plans as best we can to not inconvenience our passengers,” she said.

Flight delays piled up across the country on Monday as thousands of air traffic controllers began taking one unpaid day off per pay period because of federal budget cuts. According to the FAA, there were more than 1,200 delays attributed to the staffing reductions and 1,400 delays attributed to weather and other factors.

The FAAs controller cuts — which impact about 10 percent of air traffic controllers at any facility — went into effect on Sunday, said Gregor.

The furloughs include not only air traffic controllers, but also airline and airport safety inspectors. Nationwide, an estimated 47,000 employees — among them 15,000 air traffic controllers — face furlough.

The delays are the most visible effect yet of Congress and the White House’s failure to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan. The FAA was hit with a $600 million cut to its budget, resulting in the furloughs of salaried employees, which make up about 70 percent of the administration’s budget.

Associated Press writer Scott Mayerowitz contributed to this report.

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