Major Airlines Urge U.S. Officials to Address Holiday Flight Delays and Staffing Shortages

On Friday, a major passenger airlines group requested U.S. transportation officials to do more for holiday flight delays and cancellations caused by private planes and air traffic controller staffing shortages. The group, Airlines for America, represents American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and others. 


They have asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Michael Whitaker to strike a balance between commercial and private aviation traffic. They also urged them to take all possible steps to minimize delays and cancellations for the traveling public. Furthermore, they asked that all possible actions be taken to avert additional staffing triggers, especially in high-volume centers for air traffic control. 

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The FAA stated that airlines, general aviation, and others have a seat at the Command Center, where the FAA monitors the airspace 24/7 and gives updates every two hours. The FAA mentioned that they are taking immediate action to recruit, train, and hire more air traffic controllers as air travel continues to rebound. However, they acknowledged that there are still about 3,000 controllers below optimal levels. According to the FAA, preliminary data from December 20—27 show that 77% of delays have been due to volume, 19.1% to weather, and 0.9% due to FAA staffing. 

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Buttigieg stated that the U.S. is on pace to have the lowest number of flight cancellations in five years. He and Whitaker have prioritized boosting air traffic control staffing. In September, the FAA extended cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024, citing staffing shortages. New York Terminal Radar Approach Control staffing is at 54% of recommended levels. In June, a government watchdog report stated that critical air traffic facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks to air traffic operations. Controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover the shortage in many facilities. Last week, Whitaker announced that a panel led by a former safety board official would address air traffic controller fatigue after a series of near-miss incidents.

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