US Airlines request extension of slot waivers until October's end.

Key Points:

  • Airlines for America (A4A) has requested the FAA to prolong the slot relief initially set from 15 May to 15 September, pushing it to 28 October.

  • Staffing levels at the New York TRACON facility (N90) remain at only 54%, causing potential operational disruptions.

  • Summer storms and scheduling challenges have led to significant disruptions, with United Airlines facing extensive cancellations and delays.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Major US airlines have appealed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to prolong the slot waivers in high-traffic Northeast US airports until October concludes. A4A, representing 10 of the nation's largest airlines, voiced this request in a 7 August letter to the FAA. The lobby group emphasized that the extended relief, which had its genesis in March and was slated to end by mid-September, should persist for an extra six weeks. This would align with the full summer season's conclusion as determined by IATA.

The group maintains that such an extension is pivotal for both the airlines and the flying public, offering enhanced predictability and reducing potential disturbances. A4A stressed the significance of the waivers, stating, “Although we faced operational challenges even with the relief, the situation would have deteriorated further without the FAA's intervention.”

One of the pressing challenges is the staffing bottleneck at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility (N90), which is operating with just 54% of the required staff. This shortage, as per the FAA's observation, could result in operational setbacks unless a shift of the Newark airspace sector to the Philadelphia TRACON occurs. However, no significant improvements in staffing levels at N90 have materialized, nor has the Newark airspace been relocated.

Generally, airlines need to occupy 80% of their allotted slots at airports with restricted traffic. The decline in air traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic saw global aviation regulators ease these requirements, enabling airlines to hold onto slots without long-lasting repercussions. “Airlines have been ramping up their hiring processes and investing significantly in both manpower and technology to bolster system resilience,” commented A4A. However, uncontrollable factors like extreme weather and air traffic control staffing shortages have accentuated the need for temporary waivers.

In a prior directive in March, the FAA had informed airlines, particularly those operating from major New York and Washington DC airports, that they could forgo up to 10% of their assigned slots throughout the summer due to ATC staffing issues. Consequently, certain carriers pared down their schedules at these impacted airports. Nevertheless, recurrent summer storms compounded operational challenges for many airlines in the region. A case in point is United Airlines, which grappled with substantial cancellations and delays, especially around the Independence Day weekend. Notably, on 28 June, the airline had to cancel 26% of its planned flights, with nearly 45% facing delays, as highlighted by data from