• IATA criticized the FAA and NAV Canada for not addressing staffing shortages at air traffic control.

  • The FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) have mandated airlines to invest $630 million for avionic equipment modifications to counter potential 5G interference risks.

  • With the record surge in air travel and unpredictable weather causing chaos for passengers, both Canadian and U.S. governments are urged to address the prevailing issues.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has sharply criticized North American aviation authorities for not swiftly addressing staffing issues at air traffic control (ATC) centers. Willie Walsh, IATA's director-general, expressed concerns on 19 July about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the USA and NAV Canada's perceived lack of urgency in bolstering their staff ranks. This comes as air traffic is soaring to its highest since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Airlines have scaled up to meet the post-pandemic travel demand, resulting in the highest US passenger airline employment in over two decades. Meanwhile, the ATC staff deficit in North America has led to significant travel disruptions," remarked Walsh.

A report from the US Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from 21 June highlighted the FAA's current air traffic controller shortage as an immediate concern. The pandemic hindered the FAA’s capacity to uphold its staffing standards at many US facilities, leading to numerous delays and flight cancellations.

Walsh pointed out the alarming revelation from the report: "As of March 2022, over two-thirds of the critical ATC centers, including key facilities in cities like Miami and Chicago, operated below the agreed 85% staffing threshold. This is clearly not sustainable."

He further criticized the FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) for mandating airlines to invest a hefty $630 million to modify avionics equipment aboard numerous planes, aiming to counteract potential 5G interference issues. Walsh emphasized that such an approach was unprecedented, with other countries not imposing such hefty costs related to the 5G roll-out.

Combining these issues creates a "double setback of poor foresight," Walsh said.

Across the border, Canadian policies have also raised eyebrows. Walsh expressed dismay at the Canadian government's updated passenger rights laws, which seem to disproportionately burden airlines. The IATA insists that responsibility should be evenly spread throughout the aviation sector.

"With record air travel demand and unpredictable weather causing chaos for passengers recently, it's crucial for both Ottawa and Washington, DC to address these issues head-on," urged Walsh.

Earlier in the year, former acting FAA administrator, Billy Nolen, announced plans to recruit up to 3,000 new air traffic controllers by 2024's close. However, full training could extend to five years, potentially perpetuating current challenges.