published Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Passengers brace for flight delays as airport workers are forced to take unpaid day off

Travelers stand in line at Los Angeles International Airport.
Travelers stand in line at Los Angeles International Airport.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    An air traffic controller works in a terminal radar approach control room at the Atlanta TRACON in Peachtree City, Ga.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Airport travelers worried Monday over delays nationally caused by the budget-related furlough of air traffic controllers and security checkpoint workers.

"I've got a big meeting in New York," said businessman Paul Ignnella at Lovell Field. "We rely on the airlines. If they let us down, they let the economy and businesses down."

Delays on Monday were felt in airports to which Lovell Field has nonstop flights such as in Charlotte and at Washington's Reagan National.

Chattanooga Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said while at least three departures were delayed Monday, all were either equipment- or weather-related. Passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had to take a bus because of a mechanical problem with a plane, she said.

Furloughs kicked in Sunday for 47,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers, including 15,000 air traffic controllers.

The FAA said it was implementing traffic management initiatives at airports and facilities around the country. Travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues, the FAA said.

Furloughed employees are taking off one day without pay in every two-week pay period. About 1,500 controllers -- 10 percent of the FAA's controller workforce -- were required to take an unpaid day off Monday, according to The Washington Post.

Chattanooga Airport's tower has 22 controllers and trainees, according to the FAA in a 2012 fiscal year report.

In addition, furloughs of Transportation Security Administration workers were causing peak-hour backups at security checkpoints at some airports.

In Chattanooga, airline passengers hoped to make their connections at other airports.

"They ought to give priority to the airlines," said Karole Hennessee, of Harrison, who was flying from Chattanooga to Atlanta and then onto Salt Lake City. "You pay for your ticket."

Murphy Rogers, of Sand Mountain, Ala., who was flying to Fargo, N.D., said that while he in the past has been delayed a lot in Atlanta, he hoped that wouldn't be the case Monday.

Rogers said he understands the need for the budget cuts, though he has a problem with trimming military spending.

While there's not enough money to pay air traffic controllers, work continued Monday on a Brainerd Road site adjacent to Chattanooga Airport where vacant buildings are being torn down on 8 acres that will be turned into green space. The work also bolsters airport safety by extending the landlocked airport's runway protection zone, officials said. The airport provided the $4.3 million in funding for the project, mostly from FAA money.

Airport chief Terry Hart said the funds already were earmarked well before the federal sequestration which began last month.

Still, Jarvis Davis, who was waiting at Chattanooga Airport for a friend flying in from Atlanta, said that "the last thing people want is a lot of inconvenience."

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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