by: Aaron Diamant Updated:
ATLANTA - Airports across the country and in Atlanta are concerned as the federal government forces air traffic controllers to take furloughs.
Every major airport, including Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, now has fewer controllers handling the same number of planes.
"It's here now," National Air Traffic Controllers Association vice president Victor Santore told investigative reporter Aaron Diamant on Monday.
After many months of warnings, passengers to and from Hartsfield-Jackson are finally feeling the impact of the furloughs.
"We're already seeing the ripples,” Santore said. “The arrival rate at Atlanta is down even though it's a perfect day."
"If I'm in a hurry, that's going to be a problem," traveler Matthew Hopkins told Diamant.
By Monday afternoon, delays into Hartsfield-Jackson averaged about 11 minutes, while many delays to and from the East Coast stood at more than an hour due to problems there.
"We're paying the price, but eventually maybe they'll get it straightened out once they see what effect it has on us," Hopkins said.
Until then, the Federal Aviation Administration said 10 percent of its 15,000 controllers are furloughed on any given day to keep up with federally mandated budget cuts. And that's forcing remaining controllers to slow down arrivals.
"We're ready to go, and they said we got to wait here at the airport at least 20 minutes, because of the problems in Atlanta," said passenger Art Crawley.
"It will be fewer aircraft in the same amount of time, and somewhere that delay has to be absorbed, whether it's on the ground before they depart, or whether it's in airborne holding -- somehow, somewhere, that aircraft is going take a delay in order to keep some piece of the operation moving," said Santore.
Diamant confirmed that controllers at Atlanta's approach control in Peachtree City are working extended shifts to pick up the slack -- leaving some passengers worried about safety.
"I think everyone knows that air traffic controllers are some of the most stressful jobs out there, and really anyone even working an 8-10 hour day at a normal job … it's tough, so the idea that we're stretching our resources further, that can't be a good thing," traveler Nam Nguyen told Diamant.
The FAA says the furloughs led to 400 flights delayed across the United States on Sunday. It’s still adding up Monday’s numbers.
They warn that when the weather gets bad, delays in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson could run more than three hours.