CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The president of Charlotte's local of the Air Traffic Controllers Association warns that new, FAA-mandated furloughs could cause delays of up to an hour and a half at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
The furloughs started Sunday at airports nationwide. Charlotte didn't appear to have any delays because of the furloughs on their first day.
But Ben Murray, Charlotte president of NATCA, the air traffic controllers union, said Sunday that could change. At least four air traffic controllers would be absent from a normal 22-person shift "on a good day," said Murray.
Other days, as many as nine controllers would be absent -- a reduction of 40 percent.
Each absence means a radar or runway that's not being watched, said Murray. That will have a "ripple effect" across airports where planes are waiting to take off or land.
"I think passengers at all airports are really going to feel it," said Murray by phone Sunday. "Each controller represents, for lack of better description, a runway or radar position we could actually open."
Several airline groups are suing the FAA to stop the furloughs. They are scheduled to take place through October because of federal budget cutbacks.
Airlines contend the furloughs could cause up to 6,700 flights a day to be delayed nationwide, according to the lawsuit.
Most travelers at Charlotte-Douglas Sunday hadn't heard about the furloughs, but weren't thrilled when we told them.
"No one can function like that," said Kelly Kundratic, who flies frequently. "They have jobs to get to, fly across the country, see their families, stuff like that."
"It could certainly be a hassle that's for sure," said Ralph Sheheen of Charlotte, who also travels a lot. "We just have to wait and see what happens."
Mondays and Fridays are the busiest days for airports, and the most likely to have delays.
Murray said some days could be perfectly normal, while others have several long delays.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) released the following statement to NBC Charlotte on Monday:
As anticipated, the FAA began to furlough critical front-line safety professionals - to include air traffic controllers who are vital to our daily safe operations.
Delays in excess of 30 minutes are already reported at major airports on the east coast, and are expected to increase and extend across the country during the day.
This is a unique situation, and ALPA is calling on the Administration and Congress to work together to end this furlough of essential safety personnel immediately.
Our aviation system should not be used as a pawn in budget debate. The livelihood of our economy is dependent on air commerce, and the financial strength of our airlines and the people they employ are at risk.