What an Air Traffic Controller Shortage Could Mean for You

Several carriers are planning schedule cuts to multiple major airports this summer

Miami International Airport

A shortage of air traffic controllers means that schedule cuts may be coming to an airport near you this summer.

Per a new report from CNN, American Airlines has announced its intent to slash service from two major New York City airports in the coming months and, in similar fashion, Delta and United have requested permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to cut back their scheduled flights to and from the area by as much as 10%. JetBlue, which is headquartered in New York, is expected to do the same.

This comes off the back of the administration’s warning that air traffic control “staffing shortfalls” at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control could increase delays by 45%. “Nationwide, two in 10 air traffic controller positions are unfilled. The union representing air traffic controllers says staffing levels have dropped 10% over the last decade,” Pete Muntean and Gregory Wallace wrote.

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For the uninitiated, air controllers are responsible for monitoring and directing the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air, as well as controlling all ground traffic, issuing takeoff and landing instructions to pilots and communicating with other traffic control centers, among other things. In short: the important of air controllers cannot be overstated.

The shortage is also one of the primary reasons for the myriad cancellations and delays last summer (one in five flights nationwide was delayed between Memorial Day and Labor Day), which puts the proactivity into perspective. That said, the air traffic control union is entering a hiring and training crunch to hopefully mitigate further issues down the line.

In the meantime, carriers are still working to finalize details of their respective plans, though they are required to notify the FAA of any schedule changes before an April 30 deadline. “We’re proactively reaching out to affected customers to offer alternate travel arrangements,” a spokesperson for American said.


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