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Controller furloughs could spark delays at O’Hare, Midway later in week

Updated: May 24, 2013 6:34AM



O’Hare International and Midway airports Monday were spared flight delays from air traffic controller furloughs, city officials said, but others warned of possible 50-minute hold-ups later in the week.

The impact of Federal Aviation Adminstration-ordered furloughs of 10 percent of air traffic controllers nationwide should grow at O’Hare as the week goes on, the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association local at O’Hare Tower said.

At O’Hare, “we didn’t want to front-load the furloughs” in case a resolution to the federal sequestration budget jam is reached later in the week, said Dan Carrico, who represents 88 controllers and other staff at O’Hare.

The furloughs by air traffic controllers that began Sunday are so unprecedented, Carrico said, some controllers felt the action might be lifted by week’s end, and they “didn’t want to get stuck getting furloughs when the rest of us aren’t.’’ Plus, Carrico said, controllers are trying to schedule the unpaid days off so they will have the least impact on air traffic.

Three to four O’Hare air traffic controllers were on furlough Monday, five are scheduled off Tuesday, eight are due off Wednesday and by Friday 14 — including three management personnel — will be off, Carrico said.

Without enough air traffic controllers, Carrico said, O’Hare might have to shut down a runway, reducing the number of planes arriving per hour from 114 to 72. On a “clear-blue-sky day,’’ that would cause average delays of 50 minutes, Carrico said.

Even if O’Hare is able to handle its traffic despite furloughs, other airports and overlying control facilities that cover larger air spaces might not tackle the reduced staff as easily, Carico said. Their problems could cause a “ripple effect” across the system, he said.

Late Monday afternoon, O’Hare was experiencing some delays of 45 minutes, and Midway was seeing about a half-dozen flights delayed 90 minutes or more, but “none of these delays appear to be related to FAA furlough issues,’’ according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Nationally, flying on Sunday, the first day of the furloughs, was largely uneventful, information from the FAA and others indicated. “Relatively good weather” and light traffic, which is typical of Sundays, helped keep delays in check, the FAA said.

However, by Monday, the FAA’s website, www.fly.faa.gov, indicated some airports across the country were feeling the effect of controller furloughs.

Flights into Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C., from New York City, Newark and Philadelphia airports experienced “staffing” delays of up to 1 hour and 55 minutes, the FAA’s website indicated.

Nearly 15,000 controllers nationwide are to lose one day of work every other week under furloughs forced by the federal budget stalemate.

Airline trade groups and the country’s biggest pilot union sued the FAA on Friday to try to stop the furloughs. They predicted that furloughs would delay or cancel flights for as many as one out of every three airline passengers across the country.

Contributing: Associated Press



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