Delays hit major US airports as control tower furloughs kick in

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Travellers waited more than an hour for flights in New York and experienced delays at other US airports as furloughs of air traffic controllers began, reducing the ability of busy hubs to handle arrivals and departures, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The furloughs that started on Sunday reduced staffing by 10 per cent across the country.

Last week the FAA warned of delays up to 3-1/2 hours at some airports as the agency cuts spending to meet reductions required under federal budget cuts.

New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports reported delays of more than an hour, and Philadelphia international airport also reported delays due to furloughs, the FAA said.

Los Angeles International reported nearly a two-hour delay at 10 pm on Sunday (10am Monday, Singapore time), and Newark Liberty International reported 28-minute delays, though the FAA could not confirm whether those were related to the staff cuts.

Delays of up to 58 minutes in San Francisco and 29 minutes in Orlando, Florida, were due to construction and weather, the FAA said.

"Relatively good weather throughout the country and light traffic helped minimise air traffic delays," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

The delays come as the FAA furloughs its 47,000 employees, including nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers who manage the nation's airspace.

The furloughs are set to last through September, the end of the US fiscal year, and are expected to save about US$200 million (S$248 million) of the US$637 million the agency must cut from its US$16 billion budget, the FAA said last week.

Mr Paul Rinaldi, president of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, said about 1,200 to 1,500 controllers will be staying home each day, on average, and that some airports might be able to shift staffing to reduce the effect of the furloughs.

US airports handle about 25,000 flights a day, he said.