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Air Traffic Controller Furloughs Leading to Flight Delays

Flickr, David Barrie http://www.flickr.com/photos/addictive_picasso/80085483/

Remember the Sequester? The across-the-board federal budget cuts? Get ready to start feeling the effects the next time you fly. Delays at the Austin airport could become noticeable as soon as Tuesday.

For air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration, mandatory furloughs are in effect: a forced day off for every pay period. That means fewer controllers working airport control towers.

Matthew Sheffield, the Austin representative of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, sees it as a choice between flight safety and flight delays.

“There’s no way to safely operate the system without causing delays,” Sheffield said.

Those delays have begun at some airports -- not so much yet at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, because of extra staffing from the Motorcycle Grand Prix over the weekend, but that is over.  

“Tomorrow will be a better representation for our airport of what it’s going to look like as far as furloughs’ impact on air traffic control,” Sheffield said. “The only alternative is return to the staffing we had or continue to reduce the amount of flights in the air."

In the meantime, there's no end in sight, with the situation only worsening if there’s stormy weather anywhere and as the summer travel season heats up.

In Austin, Sheffield says the furloughs are on the schedule at least through May.

Trey Shaar is an All Things Considered producer, reporter and host. Got a tip? Email him at tshaar@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @treyshaar.
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