DALLAS ( Associated Press) — Airlines under scrutiny due to massive flight disruptions are resuming their criticism of the government agency that manages the nation’s airspace, saying a shortage of staff at the Federal Aviation Administration is “crippling” traffic along the east coast.
Airline for America, which represents major US carriers, said Friday it wants to know the FAA’s staffing plans for the July 4 holiday weekend “so we can plan accordingly.”
The industry group’s comments could serve as a preemptive defense should airlines again face thousands of canceled and delayed flights over the holiday weekend when travel is expected to set a new pandemic-era high.
“The industry is actively and agilely doing everything possible to create a positive customer experience as it is in the airlines’ inherent interest to keep customers happy so they come back for future operations,” Nicholas Calio, president of the trading group, said in a letter. Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg.
Kalio said airlines have cut 15% of the flights they originally scheduled for the June-August period 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. .
Kalio said air traffic is often interrupted “for many hours” because the FAA announces delays due to bad weather.
“However, we have also noticed that FAA (air traffic control) staffing issues have led to blue sky traffic restrictions,” he added.
The FAA responded by citing taxpayer money that airlines received after the pandemic devastated air travel.
“When buying an airline ticket, people expect to get where they need to go safely, efficiently, securely and at an affordable price,” the FAA said in a statement. “By receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to save airlines from massive layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.”
The FAA said it added controllers to high-traffic areas and added alternate routes to keep aircraft moving.
The airline trade group chief’s comments come a week after Buttigieg called airline executives to a virtual meeting and threatened to punish carriers who do not comply with consumer protection standards set by his department, which includes the FAA.
Buttigieg said he called the meeting after he was alarmed by the high number of canceled flights on Memorial Day — more than 2,700 in five days, according to the FlightAware tracking service.
During the summer, thunderstorms can quickly disrupt air traffic, but airlines have also acknowledged a shortage of staff – they are quickly hiring to replace tens of thousands of workers who were paid by airlines to quit when travel stopped in 2020. Pilots’ union leaders say their teams are working to the limit, with more pilots reporting fatigue.
The FAA has acknowledged that it too is understaffed, especially at a key air traffic control center in Florida.
Calio said the facility near Jacksonville, Florida has been understaffed for 27 of the past 30 days, “which is detrimental to all East Coast traffic.”
More than 600 U.S. flights had been canceled and more than 4,200 delayed by Friday afternoon, according to FlightAware. However, it was better than Thursday, when east coast thunderstorms resulted in more than 800 cancellations and 6,600 delays.
David Koenig can be contacted at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter