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JFK, LGA see delays amid wind, furloughs

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The unstoppable forces of Mother Nature and Washington gridlock hit earlier this week as Queens’ two airports experienced delays, though just how much of those waits were attributable to fewer air traffic controllers at the helm was hard to pin down.

As a result of the $85 billion in across-the-board federal cuts triggered by the so-called sequester in early March, the Federal Aviation Administration Sunday began reducing the numbers of air traffic controllers staffed across the country.

In a statement released Monday, the agency said air-traffic controllers would manage staffing challenges at the New York Center in Ronkonkoma, L.I., and the Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury, L.I., by spacing planes further apart, which could lead to delays at LaGuardia Airport.

“As a result of employee furloughs due to sequestration, the FAA is implementing traffic management initiatives at airports and facilities around the country,” the agency said. “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 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 added. “Some of those tools, such as ground stops and ground delay programs, will be able to be tracked on www.fly.faa.gov.”

In an almost identical statement released the following day, the FAA said it expected delays at LaGuardia due to the weather and winds.

Furlough-based delays at the 40 major airports the FAA lists on its website were few and far between, but the agency said that by the end of the day Monday it had recorded 1,200 delays across the nation attributable to staffing issues. During that same time the FAA attributed 1,400 delays due to weather.

Amid overcast skies and high winds Tuesday, wait times at JFK and LaGuardia approached the two-hour mark, though the FAA’s website credited the delays to weather-related issues, not reduced staffing.

Nationwide, the agency planned to furlough 1,500 of its 15,000 air traffic controllers on any given day. That ratio represents a 10 percent reduction across the agency, including the press office.

“I’m out of the office due to furlough and I’m unable to respond to your e-mail,” one spokesman’s out-of-office reply read.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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