New York area airports face worsening flight delays and safety problems unless Congress and the Bush administration rectify understaffed air traffic control towers, Sen. Charles Schumer warned.

With budget cutbacks and air traffic controllers retiring in high numbers, the area's airport towers are operating with only 70 percent of the staff they need, the New York Democrat said Sunday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee should triple the Federal Aviation Administration's budget for fiscal 2008 by adding $47.7 million for new controllers, and the FAA should restore a 2006 cutback in recruiting outlays, Schumer said.

An FAA-ordered cutback in overtime pay for controllers has encouraged a spike in retirements, he said. At the same time, hiring new staff is hampered by a reduction in entry-level salaries, he said.

An original FAA request for $18.2 million for recruitment was recently pared to $15.9 million, enough for only 114 new controllers nationwide, Schumer said at a news conference.

He said all three major New York airports are operating with fewer controllers than needed — 27 at LaGuardia and 30 at John F. Kennedy International, instead of 36 at each, and 29 at Newark Liberty International, instead of 40. Teterboro, in New Jersey, has 13, half its authorized number, and the New York Terminal Radar Approach has 187 of 270.

Among the nation's 31 largest airports, New York's three major airports ranked poorly in on-time arrivals and departures in December 2006, the last month for which figures are available from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Schumer said.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the retirements in part reflected a surfeit of controllers after air traffic declined after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Current staff levels are set by a union contract implemented last year, she said.

The agency hired 1,100 trainees last year and expects to hire 1,300 this year, Brown said. "We have 2,000 people waiting to be hired," she said. "We are having no trouble recruiting."