Mandatory unpaid furlough days taken Tuesday mostly by air-traffic controllers at airports on the East Coast and at radar facilities in California, Nevada and Texas caused cascading flight delays across the nation, including at Chicago’s two airports, federal officials said.
High winds on the East Coast as well as rain and low visibility that moved toward Chicago Tuesday night added to the increasing impact of the reduction in controllers working at air-traffic towers and radar centers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Some arriving flights at O’Hare International Airport were an hour or more behind schedule Tuesday, while the delays attributable to controller shortages were generally less severe at Midway Airport, officials said.
Forty-six percent of the air-traffic delays systemwide on Monday – for a total of 1,200 delayed flights – were caused by staffing reductions from the furlough, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. An additional 1,400 delays were attributed to weather and other factors, she said.
The FAA did not provide preliminary delay statistics for Tuesday. But the agency imposed ground-delay programs that prevented planes from taking off for periods of time from several airports hit hard by controller staffing cuts. They included all three New York-area airports, where delays ranged from about a half hour to almost an hour and a half, officials said.
Other airports reporting slower operations because of controller shortages included Washington Dulles International and Dallas-Ft. Worth International.
The reduced rate of takeoffs and landings per hour was felt across parts of the country, including at O’Hare, which experienced moderate delays for much of Tuesday, according to FlightStats.com, a flight monitoring service.
About 29 percent of Midway flights were delayed Monday, FlightStats said, although it was undetermined how many of those flights were delayed because of the controller shortage.
“We are starting to see the impacts (of the staffing reductions) here at O’Hare with departure delays to the East Coast, D.C. metro area, Dallas and Los Angeles,’’ said Dan Carrico, union president of the O’Hare tower unit of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Starting this week, FAA controllers are required to take one unpaid furlough day during each two-week pay period, as part of the federal sequestration budget cuts.
The number of O’Hare controllers on furlough will pick up starting Wednesday, increasing to more than a dozen on Friday, Carrico said.