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Officials: Flight delays will hit Charlotte next week

Air traffic controller furloughs scheduled to begin Sunday could result in flight delays of more than three hours in Atlanta, as well as significant delays in Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York-area airports, federal officials said Thursday.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta said they have no choice but to cut controller staffing by 10 percent, which will reduce how many planes airports can handle.

But a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade association for the airline industry, said the furloughs are unnecessary and airlines are considering suing the government.

Controllers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport have said the furloughs will mean there will be four fewer controllers on each shift in Charlotte. Currently, 21 controllers staff a full shift.

That’s on top of the looming closure of Concord Regional Airport’s control tower, which will add to Charlotte controller’s workload. And furloughs among customs workers at Charlotte Douglas are expected to add to wait times for people re-entering the U.S.

In the most extreme case, the furloughs could delay flights up to 210 minutes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, depending upon the time of day and other factors. The FAA said, however, that the average delay will be far less, about 11 minutes.

Other airports for which officials provided delay estimates include:

• Newark, with maximum delays of 51 minutes and average delays of about 20 minutes.

• John F. Kennedy in New York, with maximum delays of 50 minutes and average 12 minutes.

• LaGuardia in New York, with maximum delays of 80 minutes and average 30 minutes.

• Los Angeles International, with maximum delays of 67 minutes, and average 10 minutes.

• Chicago’s O’Hare, with maximum delays of 132 minutes, average 50 minutes.

Officials didn’t provide an estimate for average delays at Charlotte Douglas, but said it is also expected to experience significant delays.

Airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Diego, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as Chicago’s Midway Airport, will also be affected.

Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the airline association, said the industry has legal opinions “affirming that the FAA has discretion to implement cuts without furloughing air traffic controllers.” Unlike other agencies, “they have not acted to minimize potential impacts,” she said.

“We find ourselves with little choice but to actively review all of our legal options to protect our passengers and shippers from being needlessly impacted,” Medina said. The Associated Press and Observer staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

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