More than 1,000 flights delayed as US cuts bite

WASHINGTON (AFP) - More than 1,000 US flights were delayed Tuesday because of air traffic control staff furloughs imposed as part of the so-called sequester budget cuts, officials said Wednesday.

The exact figure is 1,025, and another 975 were held up by bad weather or other factors, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.

By comparison, on the worst day for air travellers in 2012 around 3,000 flights were delayed.

The FAA said travellers using major airports like Chicago, Las Vegas and Tampa would suffer the most delays.

As of midday Wednesday no delays were reported at the three major New York airports. But at Los Angeles arriving flights were 45 minutes late on average.

Because of the sequester - automatic spending cuts that went into effect on March 1 because US lawmakers failed to strike a budget deal - as of last Sunday the FAA is forcing staff to take two unpaid days off per month.

The agency, which employs 47,000 people, is trying to achieve savings equal to five per cent of its budget by September.

The mandatory austerity is affecting all public services in the United States, with air traffic controllers working 10 percent fewer hours.

The lighter staffing has forced control towers to spread out landings and take-offs for security reasons.

"It will have no effect on safety," said Michael Huerta, the head of the FAA, at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Republicans and Democrats have each blamed the other for the sequester, which stems from a law passed in 2011 that was intended to impose such painful cuts that feuding lawmakers would have to come together behind a better deal.