ATC furloughs could not be avoided, says FAA

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it had no choice but to furlough air traffic controllers in a move that has led to widespread flight delays in recent days, even as the IATA called on the agency to work with airlines to minimise the impact on flights.

"We used all the flexibility we have," FAA administrator Michael Huerta tells reporters today, when asked if the agency had the flexibility to furlough other FAA employees instead of air traffic controllers.

Huerta points out that of the $637 million to be cut from the FAA's budget through its current fiscal year ending 30 September, about $200 million was from furloughs while the remaining $437 million reduction was achieved through cuts to contracts, information technology and other areas.

"The magnitude we are talking about, and we have to achieve that between now and September 30, we don't have a whole lot of options," he says, speaking at the sidelines of an International Aviation Club luncheon in Washington DC today.

The FAA says that the furloughs of air traffic controllers had led to more than 1,200 flight delays on 22 April, a day after the furloughs went into effect on 21 April.

At the luncheon today, IATA director general and chief executive Tony Tyler called on the FAA to work with airlines to minimise the impact of the flight delays on the travelling public.

Calling the current situation "highly unsatisfactory", Tyler says: "I very much hope that working with the industry, the FAA can work to reduce the impact."

"Yesterday's extensive air traffic delays do not portend well for air travellers or the economy."

He refers to August 2011, when the FAA managed to operate without reducing air traffic services despite a failure by the US Congress to pass a temporary funding extension for the agency, which led to a partial shutdown of the FAA in July.

"Past experience suggests that it should never have come to this," says Tyler.