FAA says normal flight operations to resume by Sunday evening

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Saturday that flight service in the U.S. would return to normal by Sunday evening after Congress passed a law to end airport delays that were attributed to the sequester.

The FAA said that that it has suspended air traffic controller furloughs that has been in place since last Sunday, but the agency said it would take another day for flight service to return completely to normal.

“Air traffic facilities will begin to return to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours and the system will resume normal operations by Sunday evening,” the agency said.

The FAA had been operating airport towers with about a 10 percent reduction in staff. The agency said air traffic controllers could not be exempted from its sequester budget cuts because the original law required that federal agencies make equal spending reductions across their budget.

The FAA instituted a “traffic management” plan where flights that were otherwise ready to go were delayed at airport gates and runways to allow airline traffic congestion to ease at major airports.

Airlines responded to the cuts with a public relations campaign to convince passengers to blame the sequester for being delayed. 

The airline industry reported that over 19,000 people sent letters to Congress and the Obama administration last week opposing the air traffic controller furloughs that were causing flight delays.

Congress responded by Reducing Flight Delays Act, which gave the FAA the flexibility to shift funds to avoid the furloughs that the agency insisted it did not previously have.  The measure was passed by unanimous consent  in the Senate Thursday and it was approved by the House in an overwhelming 361-41 vote on Friday.