By DOUG CAMERON
Commercial air traffic began returning to normal across the U.S. Sunday as the Federal Aviation Administration ended the furloughs of air-traffic controllers that had led to thousands of flight delays and cancellations over the previous week.
On Sunday, there were 3,718 delayed flights and 77 cancellations as of early evening, less than the first day of furloughs the previous Sunday, and below the 30-day average, according to airline data tracker FlightStats. Delays on Saturday also returned to pre-furlough levels, according to FlightStats.
The FAA said it would return to regular staffing levels after the House cleared a bill on Friday giving the Department of Transportation more flexibility in applying budget cuts mandated under the so-called sequester. The legislation had passed the Senate on Thursday.
President Barack Obama has yet to sign the bill into law, a White House official said Sunday. An error in the Senate version required congressional clerks to redraft the documents, which will be sent to Mr. Obama to sign on Tuesday, said congressional officials.
The across-the-board cuts prompted the FAA to require employees, starting on April 21, to take one unpaid day off every two weeks, effectively cutting the FAA’s workforce of air-traffic controllers by 10% each day.
The measure allows the FAA to redirect as much as $253 million from its budget to shore up staffing and operations. The agency had said the furloughs to its roughly 30,000 air-traffic employees, half of whom are controllers, would save $162 million, and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told Congress in February that the agency would save $45 million to $50 million by eliminating funding for 170 contract towers.
The public outcry over the flight delays that followed prompted lawmakers from both parties to join in giving budget flexibility to the FAA.
United Continental Holdings Inc., UAL +2.76%the largest U.S. airline by traffic, estimated about 20,000 of its customers were affected by delays directly attributable to the FAA staffing shortages, and 48 flights a day were canceled on average. The company, including its commuter affiliates, carries between 300,000 and 400,000 fliers a day and operates about 5,800 flights.