Nightly News   |  April 24, 2013

Airlines sue to stop air traffic controller furloughs

Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta testified on Capitol Hill, facing criticism from Republicans that the delays are a manufactured crisis. Now the airlines are suing, and the White House says it will consider legislation to avoid furloughing the air traffic controllers. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> now to the business of government out of washington. tempers are boiling across this country because of air travel delays. thanks to the forced budget cutbacks called the sequester. the latest and worst example perhaps of our completely paralyzed politics. today the man who runs the f.a.a. came under attack from republicans on capitol hill who argued that the air traffic controller furloughs are a manufactured crisis. nbc's tom costello is at reagan national for us again tonight. tom, good evening.

>> reporter: hi, brian. the airlines are now suing to put air traffic controllers back in the towers. meanwhile the white house today said it would be open to legislation that would give the f.a.a. the flexibility to cut its budget elsewhere and not have to furlough the controllers.

>> turn right on alpha.

>> reporter: with 1500 fewer air traffic controllers watching the nation's skies every day, it's been four days of late arrivals and departures. according to the f.a.a., 400 delays on sunday. 1200 on monday. just over a thousand on tuesday and more today.

>> a shocking lapse of management.

>> reporter: the anger boiled over on capitol hill this morning where republicans accused the f.a.a. chief and the white house of playing politics with the furloughs.

>> you didn't forewarn us that this was coming. you didn't ask advice about how we should handle it.

>> reporter: in fact, two months ago the transportation secretary did warn of the looming impact.

>> flights to major cities like new york, chicago and san francisco and others could experience delays up to 90 minutes .

>> reporter: still, it wasn't until last tuesday that the f.a.a. told the airlines specifically which airports and radar facilities would face delays. the airlines complained every day is different.

>> our customers are showing up at the airport, going through security, getting on the plane. that's when we find out we have a problem. that's not a good way for us to run our business and certainly isn't good for the customers.

>> reporter: today the f.a.a. chief insisted the airlines were given plenty of notice.

>> we told them they should expect significant impacts at major hub facilities.

>> well, la-di-da. everyone knew that.

>> reporter: the f.a.a. could have cut the budget elsewhere.

>> runway three on right, cleared to land.

>> reporter: the white house insist it i indiana cyi insi insist.

>> they should know what's in it.

>> reporter: the f.a.a. is still planning to close 149 control towers that serve smaller communities. that should happen in june. but, brian, there is also a bill working through congress that would prohibit that as well. back to you.

>> what a mess. tom costello in washington again tonight. tom, thanks.