FAA building in Washington, DC. (photo via P_Wei/iStock/Unreleased)
Severe pilot and staffing shortages have caused airlines to cut back on the number of flights and have led to numerous delays and cancellations so far in this summer travel season.
Now, in an ironic twist, Airlines for America (A4A) – the main trade group for U.S. carriers – is saying that staffing shortages at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are partly at fault for the problems.
A4A on Friday criticized the FAA’s understaffing and asked for a full count of the government agency’s staffing plans for the upcoming July 4th Holiday Weekend so that airlines can react accordingly.
“The industry is actively and nimbly doing everything possible to create a positive customer experience since it is in an airline’s inherent interest to keep customers happy, so they return for future business,” Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group, said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Air travel was a nightmare two weekends ago, with more than 20,000 flight delays and cancellations combined. The long holiday weekend, with July 4 falling on a Monday this year, could be even worse.
While the FAA has certainly had similar retention and staffing issues, it hasn’t nearly been comparable to what is happening with the airlines, which misjudged the number of buyouts and early retirement offers and downsizing that took place during the pandemic with the quicker-than-expected resurgence of travel.
Calio said airlines have done their part and eliminated 15 percent of previously scheduled flights for the summer, but said the FAA disrupts traffic in the air due to bad weather, suggesting the delays last too long.
“However, we have also observed that FAA (air traffic control) staffing challenges have led to traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions,” he wrote.
The FAA quickly responded, noting the billions the airlines accepted in government grants and loans two years ago.
“People expect when they buy an airline ticket that they’ll 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 the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.”