Airline trade groups ask DOT to suspend tarmac delay rule

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Trade groups representing US airlines are asking regulators to suspend tarmac delay fines during the period of air traffic controller furloughs.

Airlines for America (A4A) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) filed a motion on 19 April asking the US Department of Transportation to grant a temporary exemption from the rules.

The DOT's tarmac delay rules, which took effect in 2009 after a series highly-publicized incidents, allow regulators to fine US airlines if aircraft flying domestic routes remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without allowing passengers to deplane.

The rules were later expanded to cover international flights with tarmac delays of more than four hours.

The request from A4A and RAA comes in response to ongoing furloughs of air traffic controllers, which began 21 April. The furloughs are the Federal Aviation Administration's response to congressionally-imposed budget cuts resulting from the so-called sequester.

The FAA said all 47,000 air traffic controllers will be furloughed for one day every two weeks through September.

The FAA predicted the furloughs could cause hours-long delays at some of the nation's largest airports. On Tuesday, the FAA said the furloughs caused more than 1,200 delays on Monday.

A4A and RAA said the DOT would be acting "in the public interest" if it granted airlines an exception from the delay rule during the furloughs.

An exception would allow airlines operational flexibility to address delays caused by furloughs, the groups' request says.

"In order to avoid violating DOT's tarmac-delay rules and being subjected to substantial civil penalties, airlines may be forced to cancel flights and significantly disrupt the travel plans of their passengers," said the groups' request. "During this period of FAA-imposed daily ground delays, airlines will be forced to operate in unprecedented and highly unpredictable circumstances where the only certainty seems to be that there will be substantial delays."

The DOT did not immediately response to a request for comment.