Congress has approved legislation to give the Federal Aviation Administration more funding flexibility to let it cancel furloughs of air traffic controllers but airport groups are unhappy that the bill lets FAA shift money from airport construction aid to pay the increased personnel costs.

The Senate passed the FAA bill on April 25—the same day it was introduced—and the House cleared it April 26. The bill next goes to the White House for President Obama’s expected signature.

The rapid, bipartisan congressional action was sparked when FAA furloughs started on April 21 and flight delays rose at U.S. airports. For example, FAA reported that on April 23 there were more than 1,025 delays attributable to the furloughs.

Under the mandatory government-wide budget sequester, most FAA accounts, including operations, were hit with a 5% reduction in the current fiscal year. The sequester took effect March 1, but furloughs at FAA and other agencies did not kick in right away.

FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) construction grants, which totaled $3.5 billion in 2013, had been exempt from the sequester, because it is financed from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

But the new legislation undoes AIP's exemption for this year. It lets FAA transfer up to $253 million to its operations account from AIP and other line-item programs. Most of that amount is expected to come from not-yet-obligated AIP funds.

Todd Hauptli, senior lobbyist for the American Association of Airport Executives, says, “While we’re certainly pleased to see that Congress intervene to end the furloughs, we do not support the use of capital funds to pay for operational expenses.”

Hauptli adds that the AIP aid is “money that will be used to pay salaries rather than to build necessary projects at airports around the country.”