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April 26, 2013

Senate passes bill to ease FAA furloughs

WASHINGTON —

ith flight delays mounting, the Senate approved hurry-up legislation Thursday night to end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.

A House vote on the measure was expected as early as Friday, with lawmakers eager to embark on a weeklong vacation.

Under the legislation, which the Senate passed without even a roll call vote, 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.

In addition to restoring full staffing by controllers, Senate officials said the available funds should be ample enough to prevent the closure of small airport towers around the country. The FAA has said it will shut the facilities as it makes its share of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts — known as the sequester — that took effect last month at numerous government agencies.

The Senate acted as the FAA said there had been at least 863 flights delayed on Wednesday “attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough.”

Administration officials participated in the negotiations that led to the deal and evidently registered no objections.

After the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “It will be good news for America’s traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays. But ultimately, this is 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.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key participant in the talks, said the legislation would “prevent what otherwise would have been intolerable delays in the air travel system, inconveniencing travelers and hurting the economy.”

Senate approval followed several hours of pressure-filled, closed-door negotiations, and came after most senators had departed the Capitol on the assumption that the talks had fallen short.

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