Flight delays peter out as air tower staffing returns to normal

The number of flights that are delayed has return to normal levels since Congress approved a bill to end furloughs for air traffic controllers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA said Friday that other than a backup at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that resulted from a medical issue involving on-duty air traffic controllers, the number of flights that were delayed have receded from the highs of a few weeks ago, when many air traffic controllers were being furloughed.

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The agency also announced Friday that it resolved the final remaining issue of the sequester standoff and was keeping 149 air traffic control towers open for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year. The agency had been planning to close the towers, which were mostly at small and mid-sized airports, on June 15.

The agency said that flights were still occasionally be delayed by the weather and other issues. Two lawmakers this week attributed missing votes to issues with flights.

Between April 21 and April 27, the FAA reported that 7,194 flights were delayed because of staffing issues related to the sequester. Another 6,303 were delayed because of natural causes like weather and mechanical issues, the agency said.

The FAA said Friday its management of the commercial air service in the U.S. immediately went back to normal the weekend after Congress passed the bill to end the furloughs.

The website FlightAware.com, which tracks U.S. airline traffic, reported on Friday that there were delays as long as one hour for flights arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport because of windy weather conditions.

No other airport was experiencing delays longer than 40 minutes, and those that were also attributed the delays to weather conditions in the New York and Washington areas, according to the website.

Prior to the passage of legislation rolling back the FAA's sequester budget cuts, the agency instituted a “traffic management” plan that called for purposely delaying flights to ease traffic congestion at major airports.

An average of more than 1,000 flights were held back each day, and airlines launched a campaign to inform passengers that the delays were attributable to the sequester.

Republicans in Congress accused the Obama administration of purposely inconveniencing airline passengers to win political points.

The FAA said Friday however that since the bill was passed, the only major backup it has had that was not caused by the weather or mechanical issues was the Los Angeles incident.

Weather was still a factor in even that case, the agency said.

“Because of weather and wind conditions at LAX on Sunday, May 5, air traffic controllers at the airport were operating arrivals and take-offs with a runway configuration that resulted in a reduced arrival rate on Sunday evening,” the FAA said in a statement.

“An unexpected number of controllers at the approach control facility in San Diego also reported temporary medical issues and could not work, which further reduced the airport’s arrival rate,” the agency continued. “The FAA has taken steps to help prevent a recurrence.”

The resolution to the FAA furloughs represented one of the first high-profile skirmishes between Democrats and Republicans since the sequester was implemented in March.

Republicans claimed victory in the standoff because they said President Obama “blinked” from his position that Congress should askew fixes for individual parts of the budget that were cut in lieu of an overall sequester replacement.

Lawmakers in both parties were criticized by some pundits for prioritizing commercial airline service over other budget cuts that affected poor people.

Comedian John Stewart lampooned Congress for passing the FAA just before a week-long recess, when many of them would be flying out of Washington, D.C.