Rep. Shuster: FAA could cut budget in ‘smarter way’

Shuster said the agency was inefficiently implementing its budget cuts and air traffic controllers “need be in the towers making sure the air is safe for our flying public.”

The flight delays have sparked public anger, with Republican lawmakers accusing the White House of inconveniencing travelers to win support for their stance in budget fights. Democrats and labor unions, though, lay the blame squarely on the sequester.

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The FAA says it has no choice but to furlough air traffic controllers in addition to its other employees because it is required to cut its budget by $600 million under the sequester. The agency says the sequester requires it to make cuts everywhere across its budget.

The FAA said that 1,200 flights were delayed on Monday as a result of the sequester, in addition to another 1,400 flights that were late because of weather and other issues, like mechanical problems.

Shuster said Wednesday that the delays could be mitigated if the FAA focused on keeping air traffic controller staffing levels high at major airports.

“They are treating Chicago, that has 8,000 flights a day, the same as they’re treating Waterloo, Iowa, that has 80 flights a day,” he said.” We can do this in a smarter way. This administration has the flexibility to do that, and they’re not doing it.”

Shuster said Republicans would have to “keep the pressure on this administration” to reduce the amount of delays that are faced by airline passengers between now and the end of the 2013 fiscal year in September.

The FAA has estimated that as many as 6,700 flights could be delayed this summer as a result of the sequester.

“The American people need to look at this,” Shuster said. “We need to do this in a way that makes sense and continues to help the economy and not hurt the economy. And it will hurt the economy all across this nation the way it is being implemented."

Russell Berman contributed to this report.