FAA: Flights delayed at 3 major airports due to ‘staffing’ issues amid government shutdown

An air traffic control tower rises above a ramp serving LaGuardia Airport in New York on Jan. 21, 2015. (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)

Flights at three major airports were being delayed Friday because of an increase in air traffic control employees calling in sick as the government shutdown continued.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s flight delay map showed significant departure delays at Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, on Friday morning. Lesser delays also showed at New York LaGuardia.

The FAA listed “staffing” as the cause and had issued a “traffic management” initiative to slow down the rates of departures. Typically, that “metering” effort helps controllers space out planes to keep the pace of either arrivals or departures from exceeding their capacity.

The FAA confirmed it had initiated procedures to adjust flights because of an increase in sick calls by controllers.

“We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities,” a spokesman for the FAA said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed. The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system. The public can monitor air traffic at fly.faa.gov and they should check with airline carriers for more information.”

The travel troubles come a day after a trio of airline CEOs sounded alarms that the shutdown was reaching a tipping point. The CEOs of American, Southwest and JetBlue specifically warned about the potential for flights to be delayed because a shortage of air traffic controllers would require more spacing between flights.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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