This story has been updated.
Long-anticipated furloughs of federal air traffic controllers due to sequestration will become visible this Sunday, delaying flights by three hours or more, the Associated Press reported.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta told reporters on Thursday that the required 10 percent cut in the controller workforce budget will have impact at such major air hubs as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere.
Calling the automatic spending cuts “a dumb idea,” LaHood said his department has done “everything possible” to find the money. “If we had had our way, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said. “This is a fluid situation, but we want the traveling public to have the best information.”
Still, trade association Airlines for America said the furloughs were unnecessary and warned airlines might sue the government, a threat that came through later Friday. Fox news reported that two airline trade associations and the Air Line Pilots Association filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in Washington to block the furloughs.
The furlough-based delays could be more than 2 hours in some cases, FAA told the Associated Press, but the average delay may only be 11 minutes. The estimates vary because every airport is unique, Huerta said. FAA’s delay projections don’t include possible ripple effects around the nation, he said.
The furloughs will save an estimated $200 million and related tower closings will save $25 million, Huerta said.
At least one lawmaker expressed skepticism about the need to furlough controllers. President Obama and the agency “want to cause the most pain to the American people out there so they will put pressure on Congress to back away from sequestration,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told a transportation gathering hosted by National Journal.