US airline group urges government action to address air traffic challenges

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The group representing major U.S. airlines on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to take swift action to address a long-standing air traffic controller shortage and out-of-date facilities and technology.

Airlines for America CEO Nick Calio said “more urgency” is required to address the shortage in air traffic controllers that has resulted in airlines cutting flights in key markets like New York.

“Business as usual isn’t cutting it,” Calio said in a speech. “It is an urgent problem. It’s easy to ignore maybe on a day to day basis, but we have to come up with a plan to address it.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is still about 3,000 controllers behind staffing targets and has 10,700 certified controllers, up slightly from 10,578 in 2022, which was virtually the same as in 2021 and down 10% from 2012.

Calio, whose group includes American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, called for a dashboard measuring government progress on aviation initiatives – similar to what the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has posted on airlines customer service commitments. USDOT did not immediately comment.

In September, the FAA extended cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024, citing significant staffing shortages. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said New York air traffic staffing is “unacceptable.”

An independent review team in November called for “urgent action” to bolster the FAA after a series of close calls involving passenger jets.

The report said the FAA’s outdated communications system can no longer get spare parts for many systems and many aging FAA air traffic control facilities have leaking roofs, broken heating and air conditioning systems and old surveillance radar systems that must soon be replaced at a cost of billions of dollars.

“Decades of investment neglect have compounded year over year resulting in the degradation of the system that we are experiencing today,” Calio said.

A USDOT inspector general’s report found critical air traffic facilities face significant staffing shortages, posing risks to air traffic operations. At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.

The FAA in December named a panel of experts to address air traffic controller fatigue.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)