Flights into Los Angeles International Airport were delayed an average of three hours Sunday night due to staffing, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
As of 9:30 p.m., flights arriving at LAX were late an average of three hours and seven minutes at their origin, according to FAA’s flight delay tracker. Airborne planes are delayed about 35 minutes.
By midnight, inbound flights were moving on time, the agency reported.
The hours-long holdup came the same day furloughs went into effect, meant to trim $637 million from the FAA’s budget.
The agency said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic.
Federal authorities could not confirm late Sunday whether the delays at LAX and the department-wide furloughs were connected. However, an air traffic controller union official said he suspected the budget cuts were to blame.
Mike Foote, Los Angeles representative for the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers, told NBC4 he believes Sunday night’s delays into LA are due to the furloughs.
LAX stands out as one of two airports marked in red on the FAA’s tracker, denoting flight delays. San Francisco International Airport was showing delays for incoming flights due to construction on the ground.
FAA budget cuts mean the towers at LAX will be down two air traffic controllers during the day shift, and one during the swing shift, Foote said.
Fewer air traffic controllers in the towers could trigger nationwide delays, especially during bad weather.
An average of 68 flights land at LAX every hour. With the furloughs, the number of landing flights will be cut by about 20 flights. This means the additional planes will need to circle in a holding pattern until the runways are clear for landing, Foote said.
“We feel it’s ridiculous,” he said. “They’ve managed to exempt Customs, Department of Prisons, and a few other essential services and we feel this is an essential service.”
NBC4's Tena Ezzeddine contributed to this report.