Key Points:

  • JetBlue and United Airlines CEOs voice concerns over persistent ATC staffing shortages affecting flight schedules and demand urgent actions.

  • Despite the FAA achieving its goal of hiring 1,500 controllers in the last year, it remains 3,000 short of the requisite staffing target.

  • The Transport Department eyes an injection of $117 million to facilitate the hiring of 1,800 controllers next year, adding to the 2,600 controllers already in training.

Air Traffic Control Staffing Shortage Continues to Haunt U.S. Airlines

WASHINGTON D.C. — In the aftermath of a record-setting summer travel season in the U.S., airlines are grappling with FAA air traffic control (ATC) staffing shortages that have led to a spate of flight disruptions and regulatory waivers on minimum flight mandates. At an industry conference on Tuesday, leading figures from U.S airlines shared their mounting concerns over the pressing issue.

JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes voiced that there is a pressing need to reduce flights at heavily affected airports as the present system is incapable of managing the existing number of flights. This has prompted the selling of flights that cannot be operationalized owing to the ATC staffing hurdles. "We're selling flights that we know we won't be able to operate because of ATC challenges," lamented Hayes while speaking to Reuters.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby echoed this sentiment, remarking that the ongoing staffing issues had been twenty years in the making and foresaw a substantial period required to rectify it. Kirby, who had previously criticized the FAA, emphasized the urgency of addressing the deficit in air traffic staffing levels which continues to plague the industry.

The FAA refrained from commenting on Tuesday's remarks but referenced a statement from August highlighting their achievement of hiring 1,500 controllers in the fiscal year concluding on September 30. However, it was acknowledged that they are yet 3,000 controllers short of meeting the necessary staffing goals. Despite this, Hayes pointed out that even doubling the current rate of controller hiring wouldn't suffice, as a span of five years would be needed to bridge the existing gap.

Looking ahead, the Transportation Department is charting a course to bolster the ATC workforce, proposing a budget of $117 million to recruit an additional 1,800 controllers in the forthcoming year. This is seen as a pivotal step in enhancing the existing pool of 2,600 controllers presently undergoing training.