House passes bill aimed at reducing flight delays

April 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. House easily passed a bill Friday aimed at ending sequester-related flight delays by restoring funding for air traffic controllers.

The Senate approved the same bill Thursday evening by unanimous consent. The vote in the House for the Reducing Flight Delays Act was 361-41 with most Democrats joining Republicans to support the bill, The Hill reported.

President Obama had previously rejected measures to alleviate problems caused by the sequester. But the administration suggested Wednesday it would support a restructuring of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I think we all agree the FAA and the administration has handled the sequester poorly," Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said. "The FAA has negotiated in bad faith with the FAA employees, the airlines, the flying public and the Congress, and the administration has played shameful politics with sequestration at the cost of hard-working American families. We are taking this action to end the administration's political games that threaten our passengers rights and their safety."

Advocates said the bill should halt furloughs and keep the air-traffic control system operating at a normal pace through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year

Both houses are in a one-week recess next week. Most lawmakers planned to fly out of Washington to their home states Friday, one of the week's busiest travel days.

The furloughed controllers could return to work as early as Saturday, officials said.

The furloughs, which started Sunday, require a day off without pay for every 10 workdays, or a total of 11 days off, through the end of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The result was about 10 percent of the 15,000 air-traffic controllers were off every day.

The furloughs were prompted by $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as the sequester, that were required under a 2011 deal to raise the federal borrowing limit.

Many Republicans said the Transportation Department had the flexibility to avoid the furloughs all along. But the department and White House said the agency couldn't avoid them because of the way the mandated budget cuts were written into the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The FAA had predicted the furloughs, intended to save $200 million in this fiscal year, could result in as many as 6,700 flight delays each business day.

As of Thursday, the number of flights arriving or departing behind schedule was an average 2,800, The Washington Post said. Many of those delays were attributed to weather problems at hub airports.

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