Air Traffic Controller Furloughs Begin

Alaska travelers haven’t experienced delays Lower 48 travelers are enduring because of air traffic controller furloughs. Sunday marked the first day of the furloughs which are part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to cut 5 percent from their budget as a result of sequestration.

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The air traffic controller furloughs are arriving at a relatively fortunate time for Alaska.

“All the tourists aren’t here yet, the float planes aren’t flying, there’s not a lot going on out in the bush that’s related to summertime activities,” Steve Munroe, the regional vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said. “So I think we’ve got a couple of weeks before it really starts to impact us quite a bit.”

When the number of flights begins to increase as summer draws closer, Munroe anticipates staffing numbers to remain roughly the same as they are for the winter flight schedules – and that could create problems.

Pilots in rural areas may experience occasional delays due to some staffing cuts at flight service stations – which work provide information on weather advisories, equipment and whatever else the pilots need – but Monroe expects the majority of the issues to pertain to flights in and around Anchorage.

“I don’t think you’ll see delays once you’re outside the Bowl area,” Munroe said. “Most of the delays are gonna come in the controlled air space where the Anchorage Tower has to talk to you.”

Until sequestration ends, air traffic controllers will have to take one furlough day every two weeks. Munroe says they are trying to spread those days out as much as possible to minimize impacts on air travel.