Airlines under scrutiny for widespread flight suspensions are resuming their criticism of the government agency that runs the nation’s airspace, saying a lack of staff at the Federal Aviation Administration is “grinding” traffic along the coast east.
Airlines for America, which symbolizes the largest airlines in the US, said Friday that it wants to know the FAA’s staffing plans for the July 4 holiday weekend, “so we can plan accordingly”.
The industry group’s comments could serve as a preemptive defense should airlines again suffer thousands of canceled and delayed flights over the holiday weekend, when travel is expected to hit new pandemic-era highs.
“The industry is aggressively, actively and agilely doing everything possible to initiate a positive customer experience, as it is in an airline’s unified interest to keep customers happy, so they will return for future business,” he said in a letter. Nicholas Calio, chairman of the trade group, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Calio added that airlines have dropped 15% of the flights they initially planned from June to August to make the remaining flights more reliable, are hiring and training more pilots and customer service agents, and offering passengers more flexibility. to change travel plans.
Calio opined that air traffic is often shut down “for many hours” because bad weather causes the FAA to issue delays.
“However, we have also noted that FAA (air traffic control) staffing challenges have led to traffic restrictions in blue sky conditions,” he added.
The FAA responded, with a reference to employee money airlines received, then after the pandemic devastated air travel.
“When purchasing an airline ticket, people expect to get where they need to go safely, efficiently, reliably and affordably,” the FAA said in a statement. “After receiving $54 billion in pandemic aid to help save airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.”
The FAA explained that it added controllers in high-traffic areas, adding alternate routes to keep planes moving.
The comments from the head of the airline trade group came a week after Buttigieg summoned airline leaders to a virtual meeting and threatened to punish airlines that fail to meet consumer protection requirements set by his department. which includes the FAA.
Buttigieg said he called the meeting after being alarmed by the sheer number of canceled flights around Memorial Day — more than 2,700 in a five-day period, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Thunderstorms can quickly bog down air traffic during the summer, but airlines have also acknowledged staffing shortages: They’re hiring at a fast pace to replace tens of thousands of workers airlines paid to quit when trips collapsed in 2020. Pilot union leaders say their groups are being stretched to the limit, and more pilots report being tired.
The FAA has admitted that it is also short-staffed, especially at a key air traffic control center in Florida.
Calio clarified that that facility, near Jacksonville, Florida, has been understaffed for 27 of the last 30 days, “which is shutting down all traffic flow on the East Coast.”
More than 600 flights in the US had been canceled and more than 4,200 delayed as of Friday afternoon, according to FlightAware. Still, that was better than Thursday, when thunderstorms on the East Coast contributed to more than 800 cancellations and 6,600 delays. Published by The Tampa Herald, news and information agency.