FAA pledges to work with airlines to fix Florida’s air traffic delays

May 4, 2022

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Some relief could be coming to Florida’s skies after large amounts of air traffic control-related delays in recent months.

The Federal Aviation Administration just wrapped up what it called a “productive” meeting in the state that included airlines, general aviation groups and unions about what can be done to reduce ATC delays in the skies over the Sunshine State, according to an agency statement.

Airlines have been increasingly vocal about the issue, which was viewed as a trigger for a Southwest operational meltdown last October. Executives from JetBlue, Southwest and Frontier all mentioned it prominently during earnings calls last month.

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During the two-day gathering, airlines told the FAA that they will expect to continue boosting flight schedules to Florida. In response, the FAA said pledged that it will increase the authorized staffing “immediately” for the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center — known in the industry by its identifier, ZJX.

The ZJX facility handles high-altitude traffic and sequences traffic for destinations throughout the state. It has been acutely affected by staffing issues in recent years as older controllers retire and COVID-19 slows down the agency’s ability to train new and transferring controllers. There is a caveat to this, however. While a staffing increase is a big deal for an air-traffic facility, it takes years for controllers to train and certify once they arrive at the facility — including existing controllers who transfer from other facilities.

ZJX is Jacksonville Center, an enroute facility covering airspace in Florida and the Southeastern U.S. (Photo courtesy of MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

The FAA will also create what’s known as a “playbook” that addresses the Florida’s myriad issues that can spark delays — everything from staffing to convective weather (thunderstorms), rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and military activity. It’s a tactic the agency already has put to use in the crowed airspace around metro New York, where three of the nation’s busiest airports operate within a few miles of each other. The FAA will work with airlines and general aviation groups to develop its new Florida playbook. It’s expected to include pre-made routings that can be easily filed and other measures the agency hopes can add more predictability to air traffic operations in Florida when these events happen.

More: Space ships, storms and other reasons your Florida flight could be delayed this summer

In its statement, the FAA said that the meetings will continue.

“The agency will continue meeting with all users of the Florida airspace throughout the summer to continually improve the operational efficiency of the system,” the agency said.

Featured photo of air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport (MIA) in 2017 by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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