Airlines for America (A4A), the Regional Airline Association (RAA) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), expecting severe flight delays under the FAA’s air traffic controller furlough plan, today filed a lawsuit to try to stop the plan soon after it starts. The three groups then publicly blasted the agency for failing to provide enough details about the impact for the airlines to mitigate the delays.
A4A, RAA and ALPA argue the controller furloughs should not take place at all. But they also say they were unsuccessful in efforts to persuade the FAA to at least wait 30 more days to implement them, which would give airlines more time to prepare now that they have been given specifics on how the cuts will be implemented.
The FAA, starting April 21, will furlough controllers for one of every 10 workdays, effectively cutting controller work hours by 10% across the board. But the FAA says flight arrivals per hour could decline by a higher percentage at many hub airports because of differences in tower staffing and runway use and configuration.
At an April 19 press briefing, A4A President and CEO Nicholas Calio says the FAA’s rebuff of the request left airlines with “no choice” but to file a motion for a stay with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. The RAA and ALPA also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit and participated in the briefing.
“The [furlough] plan has the effect of creating the maximum disruption for travelers because its effects will, by the FAA’s own admission, be felt the greatest at some of the largest, most frequently travelled airports,” the groups says in their lawsuit. “This plan, in essence, will unnecessarily cause one out of three passengers to be delayed every day, and make every day in the air traffic management system twice as delayed as the single worst day last year, in terms of flight delays.”
The lawsuit contends that the furloughs violate the FAA’s statutory mandate to preserve “the public right of freedom of transit through navigable airspace” and to develop plans for “the efficient use of airspace.”
Furthermore, the FAA’s assertion that it had no choice but top furlough because of the rule of sequestration are invalid, the lawsuit asserts, arguing that the FAA could opt not to furlough controllers or at least vary where the furloughs are allocated to minimize the impact at key airports.
The U.S. Transportation Department and the FAA, the lawsuit says, “have adopted a course of action that will harm airline passengers and shippers, the air transportation industry, the traveling public, and interstate and international commerce based on a false legal premise-that Congress has required the precise cuts that [they] have ordered.
“The Budget Control Act does nothing of the sort,” it continues. “Because the FAA erred in assuming that the Budget Control Act mandates the capacity reduction plan, the FAA’s decision must be vacated and remanded so that the agency may properly comply with the statute and adopt a program that is lawful and avoids severe disruptions of the air transportation system.”