DALLAS (AP) — Airlines under scrutiny for widespread flight disruptions are renewing their criticism of the government agency that manages the country’s airspace, saying staffing shortages at the Federal Aviation Administration are “impeding” traffic along the East Coast.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest US carriers, said Friday it wanted to know about the FAA’s hiring plans for the July 4th weekend, “so we can plan accordingly.”
Comments from the industry group could serve as a pre-emptive defense should airlines again suffer from thousands of canceled and delayed flights over the weekend, as travel is expected to record new heights in the pandemic era.
“The industry does everything in its power to create a positive customer experience since it is in the airline’s inherent interest to keep customers happy, so they come back for business in the future,” said Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group, in a letter. to Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg.
Kallio said airlines have dropped 15% of flights they originally planned from June to August to make the remaining flights more reliable, they are hiring and training more pilots and customer service agents, and giving passengers more flexibility to change travel plans.
Calio said air traffic is often disrupted “for several hours” because bad weather causes FAA delays.
“However, we also noted that FAA (Air Traffic Control) staffing challenges resulted in traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions,” he added.
The Federal Aviation Administration responded, pointing to the taxpayer money the airlines received after the pandemic that devastated air travel.
“People expect when they buy an airline ticket that they will get to where they need to go safely, efficiently, reliably, and at an affordable price,” the FAA said in a statement. “After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcies, the American people deserve to meet their expectations.”
The FAA said it added heavy-traffic zone controllers and added alternative ways to keep planes moving.
The comments by the head of the aviation trade group came a week after Buttigieg invited airline leaders to a virtual meeting and threatened to penalize the airlines. that fail to meet consumer protection standards set by his administration, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Buttigieg said he called the meeting after he was alarmed by the large number of canceled flights around Memorial Day — more than 2,700 in a five-day period, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Thunderstorms can quickly disrupt air traffic during the summer, but airlines have also acknowledged a staff shortage — they are hiring at a rapid pace to replace the tens of thousands of workers airlines pushed to quit when travel collapsed in 2020. Pilot union leaders say their groups The limit is exceeded, and more pilots are reporting that they are tired.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has admitted it is also understaffed, particularly at a major air traffic control center in Florida.
Calio said the facility, near Jacksonville, Florida, has been understaffed for 27 out of the last 30 days, “which is hampering traffic flows on the entire East Coast.”
More than 600 US flights were canceled and more than 4,200 were delayed by early Friday afternoon, according to FlightAware. That was better than Thursday, when thunderstorms on the East Coast contributed to more than 800 cancellations and 6,600 delays.
David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter
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