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US Congress Looking to End Air Traffic Delays

A Boeing 737 passenger plane on the tarmac at Newark Liberty airport in Newark, New Jersey, November 15, 2012.
The U.S. Congress is looking to curb the layoffs of air traffic controllers, which have resulted in thousands of delayed flights in the last few days.

The Senate late Thursday approved legislation that would give the Department of Transportation more budget flexibility so it could stop furloughing 1,500 air traffic controllers every day. With fewer controllers working at airport terminals, airlines have had to cancel hundreds of flights and delay even more to keep from overcrowding the skies.

The House is expected to consider the legislation on Friday, before leaving for a week-long recess.

Senator Susan Collins said the furloughs of the air traffic controllers were hurting air travelers.

"These are simply irresponsible cuts that have real and detrimental impacts on the traveling public," said Collins.

U.S. officials say they were forced to furlough about 10 percent of their air traffic controllers every day to meet the demands of a plan that took effect March 1 aimed at reining in the government's chronic budget deficits.

Congressional Republicans advocating sharp cuts in government spending say the Democratic administration of U.S. President Barack Obama could have found ways to trim transportation spending other than by cutting the number of air traffic controllers on duty. Instead, all of them were scheduled for unpaid layoffs one day every two weeks.

But now, after many complaints from travelers about the air traffic delays, the lawmakers are looking to give the transportation agency explicit authority to redirect funding to keep the air traffic controllers on the job.