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Sequester Cuts, Resulting Furloughs Cause Flight Delays

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Sunday brought flight delays as long as three hours to at least one airport -- the result of staffing issues caused by federal sequester cuts and resulting furloughs.

As of Monday morning, there were no significant delays reported by the Federal Aviation Administration.  But that might change throughout the day because Monday is typically a busier day for air travel than Sunday.

FAA officials have said the budget cuts left them no choice but to begin furloughing all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers.  Each employee will lose one day of work every other week.  That translates into fewer workers monitoring the same number of flights in the air.

"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," the agency said in a statement Sunday.

The busy summer travel season might bring the biggest headaches for air travelers.  Summer weekends can rival the Thanksgiving weekend in terms of passenger traffic.

The most significant delays reported on Sunday, the first day of the furloughs, were at Los Angeles International.  LAX reported that delays on arriving flights were an average of three hours and seven minutes.

Flight delays were minimal for most of the day in the rest of the country, although there were evening delays of up to an hour reported at New York-area airports.

One lawmaker thinks that in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last week, the furloughs need to be delayed by at least 30 days.

"Particularly now, smooth and efficient functioning airports are a core national interest," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.  "A delay will give Congress an opportunity to address options for avoiding the costs and inconvenience of delays and cancellations caused by furloughs."

Airlines for America, the industry trade group, took legal action against the FAA last Friday, filing a motion for a 30-day stay to prevent air traffic controller furloughs.  The widespread ground stops could cause estimated delays of up to four hours at major hub airports, affecting up to 6,700 flights a day and one out of every three passengers, according to the FAA.

But individual airlines aren't yet sure how their passengers will be affected.

"Unfortunately, the FAA has not yet provided specific details to the airlines, making it difficult to communicate exactly how customers will be affected," American Airlines said.  "However, we will make every effort to communicate with our customers as information becomes available."

The FAA has been ordered to find a way to cut $637 million from the agency's budget -- a consequence of automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in this year after Congress failed to reach a deal to reduce the national deficit.

As ABC News reported last Friday, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a news conference warned that passengers could see "a wide range of impacts across the system," adding that "safety is not up for negotiation during the sequester" and "will not be compromised in anything that we do."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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