FAA Furloughs to Begin on Sunday, Airlines Ready for Major Delays

A source tells FOX Business the Federal Aviation Administration will begin sequester-related furloughs on Sunday, a move that has airlines preparing for the worst.

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With fewer air-traffic controllers on the job, the FAA reportedly is warning major airlines they could see nearly 7,000 daily flights delayed at more than a dozen major airports, according to a report by Reuters, citing a source close to the matter.

The delays could reach up to 210 minutes at some airports, though the average delays will be much shorter, according to the report. The Administration says it will do all it can to mitigate the delays.

The FAA would not comment on the reports, however it did point to statements made by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in February that claimed the FAA would "begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April."

At the time, the FAA said it would make plans to cut $600 million for the remainder of the fiscal-year 2013, which includes furloughing a "vast majority" of its 47,000 employees for about one day per pay period as well as closing more than 100 air traffic control centers.

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Major carriers United (NYSE:UAL), Delta (NYSE:DAL) and American Airlines all diverted their comments to Airlines for America [A4A], a membership group representing 90% of U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic.

Despite the pressure on the FAA to cut costs amid the $85 billion sequester, A4A chastised the FAA’s decision to furlough controllers.

“The FAA has discretion to implement cuts without furloughing air traffic controllers,” the group said. “Unlike Customs, TSA and other agencies, they have not acted to minimize potential impacts.”

A4A went on to claim that the FAA has given “no specifics or explanation of methodology” for its decision to furlough controllers, only that the FAA expects a “10% sequestration cut will equal 30-40% capacity reductions at certain points.”

Travel groups like the Global Business Travel Association have long expressed concerns that the automatic spending cuts will weigh heavily on the travel industry, stifling business travel and slowing the economic recovery.

“Threatened reductions in air traffic controllers, customs clearance officers, and TSA officials staffing airport checkpoints risk long lines, system slow-downs, and general delays,” GBTA COO Mike McCormick said in February. “While the debate about the true impact on agency services rages, even the potential for significant disruptions in air travel is seriously disruptive to businesses.”

While there were concerns a major security furlough among the TSA would lead to steep airport delays, TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski told a congressional panel recently that he does not anticipate furloughs for his agency. He also said there have not been longer wait times at check points due to the sequestration.

This comes despite dire warnings last month from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who claimed the spending cuts would lead to sharply longer security lines.

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