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Lawmakers Critical of FAA Over Furloughs

air plane taking off

A United Airlines jet departs in view of the air traffic control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Seattle. A day after flight delays plagued much of the U.S., air travel is smoother Tuesday. But the government is warning passengers that the situation can change by the hour as it runs the nation's air traffic control system with a smaller staff. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Republican U.S. Senator Dan Coats of Indiana is criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration over its decision to furlough 15,000 air traffic controllers because of the sequester.

The furloughs have started to cause flight delays.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Coats said the FAA should have looked at cutting back on the amount of money it spends on outside consultants and non-personnel costs.

“Keeping our skies safe and getting our passengers from point-to-point is an essential function,” Coats said. “We need those air traffic controllers, and the plan that has been put forth by the FAA flies in the face of their own judgment and their own statement in terms of what they needed to do.”

Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville is among the House Republicans critical of the FAA for its decision to furlough the air traffic controllers.

“The FAA needs to make sure that they actually do what’s best to affect passenger safety positively, and the least passenger interruptions that they can have,” Davis said.

Davis said the agency has the flexibility to make better decisions when administering cuts resulting from the sequester. He is also critical of the FAA for administering the cuts without considering the size of each airport.

The federal government is warning air travelers that the situation with flight delays could change by the hour as it runs the nation's air traffic control system with a smaller staff.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is privy to FAA data, there were 5,800 flight delays across the country for the three-day period beginning Sunday, when the furloughs took effect. Some were caused by weather. The union said that compares with 2,500 delays for the same period a year ago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is from Peoria, is blaming Congress for forcing government agencies to make tough spending cuts after failing to reach a deficit-reduction plan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that if Congress wants to address the effect of automatic spending cuts on the Federal Aviation Administration, “we would be open to looking at that.''

"But that would be a Band-Aid measure," he added. "And it would not deal with the many other negative effects of the sequester, the kids kicked off of Head Start, the seniors who aren't getting Meals on Wheels, and the up to three-quarter of a million of Americans who will lose their jobs or will not have jobs created for them."

Officials estimate the FAA furloughs will save slightly more than $200 million through Sept. 30, a small fraction of the $85 billion in overall reductions that stem from across-the-board cuts, officially known as a sequester, that took effect in March.

Meanwhile, the FAA has also recently outlined its plans to close 149 airport towers across the country by June 15. Airport towers in Illinois that will be impacted by the move are located at St. Louis Regional Airport in East Alton, Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) in Bloomington, the Decatur Airport, Southern Illinois Airport in Carbondale and Waukegan Regional Airport near Chicago.