Airlines blame FAA for flight delays and cancellations ahead of July 4
Airlines under scrutiny for widespread flight disruptions renew their criticism of the government agency that manages the nation’s airspace, saying understaffing at the Federal Aviation Administration is ‘crippling’ traffic along from the east coast.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. carriers, said Friday it wanted 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 pre-emptive defense in case airlines again suffer thousands of canceled and delayed flights over the holiday weekend as travel is set to soar to new heights in the age of the pandemic. .
“The industry is actively and agilely doing everything in its power to create a positive customer experience, as it is in an airline’s inherent interest to satisfy its customers, so that they return for future business. “said Nicholas Calio, president of the business group, in a letter. to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Calio said airlines had dropped 15% of the 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 their travel plans.
Calio said air traffic is often disrupted “for many hours” as bad weather leads to FAA delays.
“However, we have also observed that FAA (air traffic control) staffing issues have led to traffic restrictions in blue sky conditions,” he added.
The FAA fired back, referring to taxpayer money airlines received after the pandemic devastated air travel.
“People expect when they buy an airline ticket to get where they need to go safely, efficiently, reliably and affordably,” the FAA said in a statement. “After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save airlines from massive layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.”
The FAA said it added controllers in high-traffic areas and added alternate routes to keep planes moving.
The airline trade group chief’s comments came a week after Buttigieg called airline executives to a virtual meeting and threatened to punish carriers who fail to meet consumer protection standards set by his department, which includes the FAA.
Buttigieg said he called the meeting after being alarmed by the high number of– more than 2,700 in five days, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
Thunderstorms can quickly rumble through air traffic during the summer, but airlines have also recognized staff shortages – they are hiring at a rapid pace to replace tens of thousands of workers that airlines have paid to quit when trips collapsed in 2020. Pilots union leaders say their groups are underwayand more pilots report being tired.
The FAA has admitted that it, too, is understaffed, particularly at a key air traffic control center in Florida.
Calio said that facility, near Jacksonville, Florida, has been understaffed for 27 of the past 30 days, “bringing the entire East Coast traffic flow to a standstill.”
More than 500 US flights had been canceled and more than 2,300 delayed by early Friday afternoon, according to FlightAware. It was better than Thursday, however, when thunderstorms on the East Coast contributed to more than 800 cancellations and 6,600 delays.