April 23, 2013

Federal cuts expected to slow flights into Maine

Major airports are seeing delays of up to two hours as 1,500 traffic controllers are furloughed daily.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Lauren Messner of New York City waits for her delayed flight home at the Portland International Jetport in Portland Monday afternoon on April 22, 2013. Messner, originally from Portland, was told when she checked-in that her flight was delayed for one hour due to the air-traffic controller cutbacks.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Nick Repenning of Whitefield checks the flight screen to see if a flight is on time at the Portland International Jetport in Portland Monday afternoon on April 22, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Ring observed that most of Monday's flight delays were out of Newark and Washington, D.C. Flights to and from other major airports were on time.

Sandy Steele of Winthrop waited in a jetport lobby for her 17-year-old son, Zachary, who had flown out of San Diego earlier in the day.

Steele said she had heard about possible flight delays, but those delays had no effect on her son's flight. His plane landed around 10 p.m., slightly ahead of schedule.

Steele said she thinks federal agencies like the FAA have exaggerated the situation to create public pressure on Congress.

"There is no better way to torture a person than to make them wait in line for a flight and not know whether they are going to miss their flight," she said.

The FAA furloughs, while expected, generated considerable backlash on Monday.

The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the union that represents 11,000 FAA employees, warned in a letter that the furloughs would also reduce staffing of systems specialists and safety inspectors.

Delta Air Lines said it was "disappointed" and warned travelers Monday to expect delays in several major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, the AP reported. Airline trade groups and the country's biggest pilots union sued the FAA on Friday to try to stop the furloughs, which the groups predicted would delay or cancel flights for as many as one out of every three airline passengers across the country.

"Our nation's economy and businesses will pay a very steep price that significantly outstrips savings produced by furloughs," the Global Business Travel Association warned the FAA in a letter Friday. "If these disruptions unfold as predicted, business travelers will stay home, severely impacting not only the travel industry but the economy overall."

Some members of Congress on Monday criticized the FAA, which had to cut $637 million from its budget, for making little effort to avoid furloughs.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, implored the agency last week to take another look at its budget.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the delays are more than an inconvenience.

"Less FAA coverage means risks for public safety, and fewer flights mean millions of dollars lost for businesses that depend on the nation's transportation infrastructure," she said in a prepared statement.

-- Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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