Being forced to take time off work doesn’t sound all that bad on the face of it. Compulsory holiday? Don’t mind if I do! Can you throw in a free drink and a pool party? However, the picture changes somewhat if the obligatory leave is unpaid – and also an indicator of national infrastructural meltdown.
So it’s probably for the best that over the weekend the FAA announced the suspension of employee furloughs which were imposed as part of the US Government’s $85bn sequester, and the resumption of normal air traffic operations by Sunday evening (April 28, 2013). The FAA had previously attributed 1,025 flight delays in a single day to mandatory staffing reductions.
The FAA’s two-line announcement prompted much comment among America’s aviation associations. Airlines for America (A4A) hailed the ‘Reducing Flight Delays Act’ as a “bipartisan, common-sense approach to restore efficiency to our nation's skies”, while the Regional Airline Association (RAA) plumped for an Oscars-worthy acknowledgment praising everyone from passengers to Congress, air traffic controllers and the RAA’s 50,000-plus airline employees.
The Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), however, described the furlough suspension as “bittersweet”. Chairman of the board David Edwards expressed relief at the avoidance of a “devastating negative economic effect” on the nation – but also complained that the solution involves draining funds from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).
Politically, too, the row continues. White House press secretary Jay Carney called the Act “no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester’s mindless, across-the-board cuts”. For their part, Republicans and some airline chiefs have insinuated that the furloughs were actually a cunning strategy by the FAA to deflect the knife of State which is slicing and dicing national institutions across the board.
For now, passengers and airlines are breathing a sigh of relief at the restoration of “business as usual” at airports around the country, but with this kind of maelstrom as a backdrop one wonders how long it will last.
(On a side note, a typo is reportedly preventing President Obama from signing the Act into law.)