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FAA staff shortages cause delays at LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia airports

By Nicholas Sakelaris and Danielle Haynes
FAA staff shortages cause delays at LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia airports
The Federal Aviation Administration briefly halted all flights into LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Friday because of a shortage of air traffic controllers. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Staffing shortages at the Federal Aviation Administration's East Coast air traffic control facility caused hours-long delays at some airports, including a temporary halt of flights into New York City's LaGuardia Airport on Friday.

Arriving flights resumed at the airport Friday morning after about an hour and 22 minute-stoppage.

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The FAA did not explicitly explain the reason for the staffing problems, but a 35-day federal government shutdown has forced air traffic controllers Transportation Security Administration screeners, air marshals, FBI agents and safety inspectors to work without pay for more than a month.

In some cases workers have called in sick at higher rates than normal.

RELATED Aviation unions: Airline safety 'deteriorating by the day' as shutdown goes on

"We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities," the FAA said early Friday. "We are mitigating the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed."

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President Donald Trump announced a short-term deal to reopen the government Friday afternoon, but LaGuardia still had delays. As of about 5 p.m., the airport said the average arrival delay was 1 hour and 15 minutes, the average departure delay was 1 hour and 7 minutes and the average airborne delay was 1 hour and 4 minutes.

At Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, officials said there was about a 1 hour delay for arrivals, and despite reporting departure delays of 1 hour and 14 minutes at Philadelphia International Airport, officials said times were back to normal around 4:30 p.m.

RELATED Trump says he will not give State of the Union address until shutdown ends

FlightAware.com reported there were 3,677 delays within, into or out of the United States as of 5:15 p.m. EST Friday, with 220 cancelations. Within the United States, the airports with the greatest numbers of delays were Newark and LaGuardia.

The FAA said the public can monitor air traffic at its website or check with airlines for information.

The FAA stop Friday occurred after union leaders representing several aviation groups warned of the shutdown's impact on air safety.

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The shutdown has furloughed 800,000 workers, and a little more than half of those employees were considered essential and are working without pay -- including airport screeners and controllers.

Federal workers missed their second paycheck Friday since the impasse began Dec. 22.

Three air traffic controllers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have resigned because of the government shutdown, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said. One worked at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and the other two at Addison Airport, a municipal airport north of Dallas.

Morale has been hurt by extra workload caused by the absence of FAA employees, said Nick Daniels, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump is closely watching the situation.

"The President has been briefed and we are monitoring the ongoing delays at some airports," Sanders said. "We are in regular contact with officials at the Department of Transportation and the FAA."

The partial government shutdown entered its 35th day Friday and is the longest in U.S. history.

The shutdown has also delayed Southwest Airlines from launching service to Hawaii and Delta from activating new planes in its fleet.

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