WASHINGTON — US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg revealed on Friday that the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system is currently short of approximately 3,000 workers, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aiming to fill some of these positions.

According to Buttigieg, the optimal number of ATC personnel is around 14,500, whereas the current figure stands at about 11,500. This aligns with the FAA's assessment earlier this year, which found one in five controller positions nationwide to be vacant.

Buttigieg acknowledged that thousands of controllers are currently in training, but many are also nearing retirement age. As the FAA began its hiring process on Friday, targeting 1,500 new entry-level air traffic controllers this year, an annual workforce report was released. The report revealed that the agency hired 1,026 controllers in the previous year, falling slightly short of its targets. The FAA also saw a higher number of controllers leaving their positions than anticipated, and the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in certification for many developmental controllers.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen informed reporters that the agency's plan to hire 3,300 controllers over the next two years will primarily replace retiring personnel, with about 500 hires filling currently empty positions. Earlier this year, the FAA requested airlines to reduce flights in the New York metropolitan area during the summer due to staffing shortages at a key radar facility.

However, Buttigieg insisted that ATC staffing shortages are not the primary cause of most flight cancellations and delays. He emphasized the need to prepare for the summer season and the ongoing efforts to train new air traffic controllers. Nolen's letter to Congress stated that FAA staff shortages account for only about 5% of delay minutes.