US airlines are expressing growing frustration with Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control staffing (ATC) shortages, which have snarled flights and forced regulators to extend waivers on minimum flight requirements.
‘In the short to medium term we have to reduce flights in very impacted airports because the system can’t cope with the number of flights today,’ JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference Tuesday. ‘We’re selling flights that we know we won’t be able to operate because of ATC challenges.’
Airlines have faced flight woes after a record setting US summer travel season and voluntary cut flights because of air traffic shortages. They want to add more flights to address demand.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who harshly criticized the FAA this summer, said at the conference that lagging air traffic staffing levels ‘was two decades in building and it is going to take years to get it addressed.’
The FAA declined to comment beyond a statement it issued in August that said it met its goal of hiring 1,500 controllers in the year ending Sept. 30, however that is still about 3,000 controllers behind staffing targets.
Industry workers are blaming air traffic control issues for increased aircraft incidents and delays
At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport a Southwest Airlines plane nearly hit a Delta Airlines 737
In San Francisco, two planes that were taking off nearly crashed into a Frontier Airlines that was waiting to cross a runway
A near-miss between an American flight and a United Airlines aircraft caused the American pilot to soar the plane 700 feet up
The United States has experienced several near-miss aviation incidents this year, including some that could have been catastrophic involving apparent controller mistakes.
In July, commercial airlines racked up 46 ‘close calls’ between aircrafts according to the FAA.
Some of the near misses include one on July 2 when a Southwest Airlines flight landing at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport came just seconds from hitting a Delta plane that was preparing to take off from the same runway.
In San Francisco, two planes that were taking off nearly crashed into a Frontier Airlines plane which had just landed and was waiting to cross the runway.
Another incident near Minden, Louisiana between an American Airlines and United Airlines planes caused the American pilot, flying at more than 500mph, to yank the aircraft up 700 feet to avoid collision.
Hayes said if the FAA doubled controller hiring – which it cannot – ‘it would still take us five years to catch up.’
The FAA has about 2,600 controllers in training. The Transportation Department is seeking $117 million to hire another 1,800 next year.
Data shows that flight delays have reached a 10-year high. It found that 21.4 percent of flights have been delayed by an average of 50 minutes, with JetBlue Airways being the worst offender.
Fourth of July weekend saw some of the worst flight delays and cancellations while breaking a travel record.
On Monday, July 3 more than 4,750 flights across the country were delayed and 974 flights were cancelled.
The Transportation Security Administration announced a new record had been set for the number of people screened at airports that weekend. On June 30, 2.9 million people went through airport security.
In January, passengers faced over 10,000 delays and more than 1,000 cancellations after an FAA system crashed.
Data from FlightAware shows JetBlue Airways is guilty of the most flight delays
Delayed passengers at Newark Airport over the Fourth of July holiday weekend
June 30 saw record breaking numbers of people pass through airport security
In January, an FAA system outage grounded thousands of flights
Citing ATC staffing issues, the FAA in August extended temporary cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports and Washington National Airport through Oct. 28.
A government watchdog said in June that critical ATC facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks to air traffic operations.
The FAA has 10,700 certified controllers, up slightly from 10,578 in 2022, virtually the same as 2021 and down 10 percent from 2012. Of the FAA’s 13,300 controllers, 26 percent are trainees. At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.
Last summer, there were 41,498 flights from New York airports in which ATC staffing was a contributing factor in delays. New York Terminal Radar Approach Control staffing was at 54 percent, the report said.