When will flying get better? FAA, airline CEOs meet again to try and find a fix
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Leaders from the airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration met on Thursday as both sides continue to point fingers at each other for recent operational issues.
The virtual meeting took place just a day before millions of Americans are expected to take to the skies during what could be the busiest travel period since the COVID-19 pandemic began over two years ago. It also comes as the flight disruptions that have roiled passengers recently are expected to continue into the weekend. Delta Air Lines went so far as to issue an unusual waiver — with few restrictions — that covers its entire network.
At the meeting, the FAA reiterated Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s main ask of airlines was that they run adequate schedules and hire enough staff, according to a source familiar with the meeting who was not authorized to discuss it publicly with the media.
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However, airlines have pushed back on Buttigieg’s comments and instead have blamed the issue on air traffic control staffing. Delta CEO Ed Bastian on Wednesday told employees that ATC was the main problem.
“I think [our partner] that’s most stressed right now is air traffic control,” Bastian told employees, according to Skift Airline Weekly.
ATC staffing issues have persisted at a facility near Jacksonville, Florida, that was the subject of a meeting in May between airlines and the FAA, though other facilities have reported staffing issues in recent weeks. Following the May meeting, the FAA said that it was increasing the staffing for that facility, known as the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, though training new controllers can take time.
The FAA is said that it is maximizing the use of controller overtime at its ATC facilities this weekend and shared operational data about routing aircraft around weather, the source said. Alternative routing for aircraft was also discussed.
The meeting was attended by airline CEOs and representatives from the three main airline industry groups: Airlines for America, the National Air Carrier Association and the Regional Airline Association. Acting Administrator Billy Nolen along with other senior agency officials represented the FAA.
In a statement, Airlines for America, which represents the major airlines, said that it appreciated the collaborative environment and that it was taking steps to fix some of the issues addressed.
“We appreciated the opportunity to meet with the FAA and industry stakeholders to discuss our shared commitment to minimizing disruptions and providing a safe, efficient journey for all travelers,” the statement said. “U.S airlines always strive to provide a seamless travel experience and are making every effort – including trimming schedules – to help ensure smooth travel.”
The statement added that it appreciated the FAA’s efforts to address controller staffing.
“A4A member airlines are working tirelessly to hire across the industry – customer service representatives, pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, mechanics and others – and appreciate efforts by the FAA to also attract new employees and incentivize overtime to address staffing shortages,” the statement said.”
Featured photo of the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Virginia by Pete Marovich for The Washington Post via Getty Images.
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