NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The budget cuts from the sequester have hit air travelers across the board, as mandatory furloughs for Federal Aviation Administration employees have taken effect.
Thousands of flights have been delayed and others canceled completely due to reduced staffing at the nation's air traffic control towers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Transportation Committee, told WCBS 880's Steve Scott that the cuts have the potential to pose a safety risk.
"The lack of the full complement of FAA controllers has to, in some way, enhance risk." said Blumenthal. "Obviously, there's no immediate concern of fear for the safety of flights incoming or outgoing. But certainly the risk factor is there at smaller airports, certainly, where the number of air controllers is scarcer and fewer."
Blumenthal: FAA Furloughs 'Enhance Risk' At Nation's Airports
The furloughs went into effect over the weekend as part of the $637 million in cuts to the FAA. The agency announced all of its 47,000 employees, including 15,000 air traffic controllers, will be furloughed one day every two weeks through September to fill the gap if Congress does not end the sequester sooner.
Blumenthal said in his view, the widespread delays were completely avoidable.
"They are absolutely directly attributable to the sequester furloughs of FAA employees that have caused literally thousands of delays and hundreds of cancellations of flights and they are intolerable and unacceptable. So I proposed measures that would, in effect, postpone the furloughs or eliminate them so that we can avoid the cost as well as the inconvenience and the threat to air safety," Blumenthal told Scott.
Blumenthal said the FAA has legal flexibility to maintain public safety-related employees like air traffic controllers. The senator said he is working with his colleagues from New York and New Jersey to grant the FAA whatever authority they need to avoid the furloughs.
Blumenthal added in addition to possible security concerns, the furloughs are a threat to the economy.
"We're dependent on airline travel for businesses, recreational activities, hotels, restaurants in the New York area and throughout the country," said the senior senator. "States across the country, red and blue, with Republican as well as Democratic senators are affected very deeply and irrevocably because this economic recovery is fragile, all too slow and could be tremendously impeded by these delays."
Officials estimated delays at New York's major airports could run up to an hour and 20 minutes due to the cuts.
The sequester took hold on March 1, with $85 billion in automatic cuts impacting federal agencies across the board.
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