The way in which the FAA has chosen to implement the furloughs could result in one out of every three airline passengers across the country suffering flight delays or cancellations, industry officials said at a news conference.
"The impact of these cuts on our industry cannot be overstated," said Faye Black, vice president of the Regional Airline Association, which joined the suit. "We think there is not one airport in the nation that will be immune to this."
Sunday is a light air-travel day, but by Monday the effects of the furloughs should start to "snowball," creating a mess the equivalent of having a "Hurricane Sandy in the North and Hurricane Katrina in the South," said Lee Moak, president of the pilots union.
Federal officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 of the FAA's employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers, if they hope to cut $637 million from the agency's budget by the end of September, as required under automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week, which will amount to a 10 percent reduction in available controller work hours to staff air traffic facilities each day.
FAA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Controller furloughs will save the agency $200 million, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said this week. But fewer controllers will mean planes have to take off and land less frequently so as not to overload controllers on duty, he said.
An FAA analysis released Thursday said fewer controllers will mean major delays at some of the busiest airports, although the delays will vary significantly depending upon the time of day and other factors.