Saturday, April 27, 2013

House seen moving quickly to ease air-traffic delays

By Doug Palmer and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives is expected to act quickly on Friday to finalize a Senate plan to ease nationwide air-traffic delays caused by last month's automatic federal spending cuts.

The Senate plan, passed unanimously late Thursday, will give the Department of Transportation flexibility to use unspent funds to cover the costs of air traffic controllers and other essential employees at the Federal Aviation Administration who had been furloughed.

Lawmakers were eager to act quickly since many would be scrambling to catch flights home and to other destinations at the start of a weeklong recess.

They also sought to avoid the growing wrath of the traveling public, which had dealt with significant take-off and landing delays since the furloughs started on Sunday.

The legislative action marks a surprising bipartisan effort, especially after many Republicans had blamed the Obama administration for manipulating funds to maximize the impact of the budget cuts, in a perceived bid to damage Republicans.

It does come with the risk, though, of unleashing furious lobbying campaigns to ease other program cuts triggered by the controversial "sequestration" that took effect on March 1, requiring across-the-board spending cuts among most federal agencies.

The White House on Friday welcomed Congress' move, but said it falls short of broader action needed to address sequestration.

"It will be good news for America's traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Carney said lawmakers need to take additional steps to alleviate the impact felt beyond the airline industry from the cuts, such as among poorer elderly people, defense industry workers and others brought on by sequestration.

"Ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester's mindless across-the-board cuts," he said.

Transportation officials have made other cuts to their budget but furloughs of air traffic controllers began this week, prompting traveler backlash at major hubs like those in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

On Friday morning, departing flights at Newark Liberty International Airport were delayed more than an hour and 15 minutes, and Boston's Logan Airport had departure delays of more than 30 minutes, both due to staffing, the FAA said. Teterboro airport in New Jersey, which handles many corporate jets, also was experiencing delays of more than 90 minutes due to staffing.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Doug Palmer, Susan Heavey and Alwyn Scott; Writing by Karey Van Hall; Editing by Bill Trott)


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