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FAA furloughs lead to increased delays at Logan, elsewhere

A long line of passengers waited to go through a security checkpoint at Reagan National Airport in Washington on Thursday.

Larry Downing /Reuters

A long line of passengers waited to go through a security checkpoint at Reagan National Airport in Washington on Thursday.

Flight delays in Boston have increased since furloughs of air traffic controllers began on Sunday, but they aren’t as severe as at other airports around the nation.

About 33 percent of the flights at Logan International Airport were delayed 15 minutes or more Monday through Wednesday, compared with 21 percent during the same period last week — before the Federal Aviation Administration began furloughing air traffic controllers to meet mandated budget cuts — according to the flight tracking company Flight­Aware.

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At the Newark and Tampa airports, delayed flights more than doubled earlier this week. In Newark, 42 percent of planes were delayed 15 minutes or more Monday through Wednesday, ­compared to 18 percent during those days last week, according to FlightAware. In Tampa, 27 percent of flights were late; last week it was 12 percent.

The furloughs went into effect Sunday as part of the FAA’s ­required $637 million in federal budget cuts under the ­automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. Along with the rest of the FAA staff, the nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers are required to take an unpaid day off every two weeks through ­Sept. 30. With roughly 10 percent fewer people on the job per shift, controllers are spacing planes farther apart than normal to ­manage the traffic.

The most affected airports vary from day to day. On Thursday, airports in Newark, New York (LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International), Chicago (O’Hare), Tampa, and Fort Myers, Fla., were experiencing heavy delays due to low staffing levels at control towers that serve these airports, according to the FAA.

On Wednesday, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Tampa had significant delays. Of the nearly 3,000 delayed flights across the country on Wednesday, 863, or 29 percent, were attributable to staffing reductions, according to the FAA. On Tuesday, slightly more than half of the 2,000 delays were because of controller furloughs.

The industry trade group Airlines For America filed a ­motion in US Appellate Court in Washington last Friday in an attempt to delay the FAA’s ­decision to implement the ­furloughs.

Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters

Passengers made their way through the Tom Bradley terminal at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday.

“The FAA is unnecessarily and purposefully causing ­thousands of flight delays by taking unprecedented action to furlough air traffic controllers — professionals who ensure the safety and efficiency of the ­national airspace,” said Airlines for America spokeswoman ­Victoria Day.

In response to the criticism, the Senate passed legislation Thursday night to end the ­furloughs.

Approval came without ­dissent, and long after many senators had left the Capitol for a weeklong vacation. A House vote is expected as early as ­Friday.

Under the measure, the Federal Aviation Administration would gain authority to ­transfer up to $253 million from accounts that are flush ­into other programs, to ­‘‘prevent reduced operations and staffing’’ through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Jet departed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday. Slightly more than half of Tuesday’s 2,000 delays were because of controller furloughs.

Officials said that would probably be enough to restore full staffing for the furloughed controllers, as well as prevent the closure of small airport ­towers.

JetBlue Airways, Logan’s largest carrier, said the furloughs have led to more delays and cancelations every day this week because the FAA is ­slowing takeoffs and landings. The FAA tells the airlines how many flights can arrive and ­depart in a given time frame.

“We’re extremely frustrated by the unnecessary delays and cancelations due to the ­sequestration,” said spokeswoman Allison Steinberg.

Business travelers have been especially hurt by the excessive delays, said Michael Steiner, ­executive vice president of ­Ovation Corporate Travel, a New York company that ­handles business travel for 600 law firms, financial institutions, and other professional service organizations. “It’s starting to hurt business,” he said. “These flights are getting delayed to the point where they’re missing meetings.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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