Flight delays as US government shutdown impacts airports

As the partial shutdown enters its 35th day, a shortage of air traffic controllers causes some delays on East Coast.

    Planes are seen at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York City [File: Mario Tama/Getty Images]
    Planes are seen at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York City [File: Mario Tama/Getty Images]

    As the US government enters its 35th day of a partial shutdown, a shortage of air traffic controllers has led to delays and the halting of some flights at New York's LaGuardia International Airport, New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. 

    Flights into LaGuardia were briefly halted on Friday morning due to staffing issues, according to a statement by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

    The FAA said it was instituting a programme to manage traffic that would result in significant delays of nearly 90 minutes for arriving flights.

    "We've mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed," the FAA said. "The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system."

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    Controllers and airport screeners are not being paid during the ongoing partial government shutdown.

    The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the delays. 

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said delays at East Coast airports are another symptom of the "federal madness" caused by Trump. 

    Earlier in the day, Cuomo wrote to Trump demanding an end to the shutdown, saying it could become a national security issue. 

    On Thursday, three major US airlines - American Airlines Group Inc, Southwest Airlines Co and JetBlue Airways Corp - said the impact of the shutdown on their business had so far been limited but was nearing a tipping point.

    "No one can predict what impact it will have as it continues," Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said of the shutdown on Thursday.

    The financial fortunes of airlines are closely tied to the health of the economy. In addition, airlines with hubs in Washington, DC, have said they are losing government business as a result of the shutdown.

    Missed paycheques 

    On Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers missed their second paycheque since the shutdown began on December 22 over Trump's demand for $5.7bn in funding for a wall on the US southern border with Mexico. 

    Trump has dug in at the White House, continuing to insist on funding for a wall, while the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which opposes the wall, has left Washington for the weekend.

    On Thursday, two competing bills aimed at ending the shutdown failed to pass in the Senate. One bill, backed by Trump, included the president's request for $5.7bn in funding for a border wall. The other, supported by Democrats, did not. 

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    Trump said on Thursday that if Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer reached a "reasonable agreement" to end the shutdown, he would support it.

    The president also said, however, that a deal was "not going to work" unless it included "a wall or a barrier". 

    He said one suggestion was "a pro-rated down payment for the wall". 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies