Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Las Vegas airport braces for potential logjams from FAA cutbacks


Sam Morris

A United Airlines jet takes off from McCarran International Airport on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

Updated Monday, April 22, 2013 | 12:55 p.m.

Las Vegas could see delays in flights to and from Southern California airports as the result of FAA budget cuts that have already led to cascading delays along the East Coast this morning.

McCarran International Airport’s website this morning listed 54 flights with delayed departures today, with delays ranging from eight minutes to three hours. The airport’s flight-tracking database does not differentiate between delays due to staffing and weather or mechanical problems.

A McCarran spokeswoman said there haven’t been any major scheduling problems at McCarran, but the airport often sees delays pile up because of circumstances at other airports.

The FAA said operations at any airport are affected not only by that airport’s control tower staffing but by staffing at the nearest FAA approach control, which typically handles arrivals and departures from multiple airports within a given area. For Las Vegas, that means potential logjams to and from Southern California airports, including Los Angeles International Airport.

The FAA identified Los Angeles as one of the regions hardest hit by employee furloughs. Nationwide, there were an estimated 400 flight delays on Sunday in the system attributable to staffing reductions.

The FAA said due to controller staffing issues, Sunday flights to and from Los Angeles had “significant” delays, with travelers complaining that flight times were pushed back as much as three hours.

About 10 percent of air traffic controllers are being furloughed each day. The FAA also plans to increase spacing between planes, a safety measure that could further delay flights.

Flight delay information can be tracked at

“The FAA will be working with the airlines and using a comprehensive set of air traffic management tools to minimize the delay impacts of lower staffing as we move into the busy summer travel season,” said Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division.

Some flights out of New York and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground. The federal agency has said furloughs of air traffic controllers could lead to delays if there weren't enough people to monitor busy air corridors.

For instance, the 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle pushed back from the gate at Reagan National Airport six minutes early but didn't take off until 9:58 a.m. The plane landed at 10:48 a.m. — more than two and a half hours later than its scheduled time.

If travelers instead took Amtrak's 8 a.m. Acela Express train from Washington, they arrived in New York at 10:42 a.m. — 4 minutes early.

Government budget cuts that kicked in last month are forcing the FAA and other agencies to cut their spending. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

Skies were mostly calm along the East Coast, with the exception of a few wind gusts in New York. The delays seen were much more severe than what would normally be seen on a comparable day with full staffing.

Delta Air Lines said it was "disappointed" in the furloughs and warned travelers Monday to expect delays in the following cities: New York, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The flight tracking service FlightAware says flights heading to Florida are seeing delays of up to an hour.

Raymond Adams, president of the air traffic controllers union at New Jersey's Newark airport, said on Twitter than a few flights out of Newark to the south got sent back to Newark because the Washington area air traffic control system was overwhelmed.

Some groups are warning that the slowdown could hurt the economy.

"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."

Las Vegas Sun reporter Richard N. Velotta and Associated Press reporter Scott Mayerowitz contributed to this report.

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