TAMPA — Dozens of flights at Tampa International Airport were delayed today on the first major day of sequestration furloughs of air traffic controllers nationwide, with disruptions building up as the day grew later. But officials could not pinpoint the causes of the delays as bad weather in the North added a factor to controller shortages. “At this point we don't know whether to attribute delays to the weather or to sequestration,” Tampa International spokeswoman Janet Zink said. That continues to create uncertainty for how furloughs might affect travel in coming days. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to furlough 10 percent of its employees, including 1,500 of 15,000 controllers nationwide, on any day through Sept 30.
“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 in a statement, noting “staffing challenges” at regional control centers in Jacksonville, New York, Fort Worth and Los Angeles. “Controllers will space planes farther apart so they can manage traffic with current staff, which will lead to delays at airports,” the FAA said. On Sunday, about 400 flight delays across the nation were attributable to furloughs. Airline and pilot organizations last week filed suit to stop the FAA's furloughs. New York resident Tracey Fariella was less concerned about the causes of the delays at Tampa International than with getting accurate flight information for a flight to Newark this afternoon.
She was worried a flight listed to depart at 2:06 p.m. would be hours late because the inbound aircraft likely to be used to return north would not arrive until 4:21 p.m. “It's very frustrating,” Fariella said. “I could have spent another day in Florida at my condo.” Delta Air Lines told its passengers it was disappointed that FAA furloughs will result in delays. The FAA told airlines delays are most likely to occur at 10 airports: New York-LaGuardia; New York-JFK; Newark Liberty; Philadelphia; Fort Lauderdale; Chicago O'Hare; Chicago Midway; San Francisco; Los Angeles; and San Diego.” Against the backdrop of Tampa International schedule boards showing 29 arrival and 20 departure delays between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., averaging about 30 minutes each, Gov. Rick Scott blamed the FAA for using furloughs he said would adversely affect Florida's economy rather than other budget trims. “The federal government is spinning in the wrong direction,” Scott said. “The FAA couldn't do the right thing.” Asked what his message would be to congressional Republicans and Democrats, who approved sequestration as an expected intolerable solution to force agreement on a budget, Scott said Washington should follow Florida's lead in balancing the budget and creating efficiencies. The FAA said air traffic controller furloughs would save $200 million of $637 million it must trim from its $16 billion budget. In addition to furloughing controllers at major airports, the FAA plans to curtail air traffic control service contractors provided at small airports serving general aviation aircraft, including Lakeland and St. Petersburg.