Airline executives raise alarm that air traffic controller shortage will continue disrupting flights for years
Airline executives are raising the alarm that the shortage of air traffic controllers, which has already disrupted flights this year, could last for years. The Air Traffic Organization (ATO) of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which employs air traffic controllers, is facing a shortage of nearly 3,000 controllers, with numbers expected to decline by nearly 800 additional controllers by 2022. The ATO’s staffing back-up plan, which includes overworked controllers covering for vacations, training, and illness, is not enough to keep flights on-time. Unless the ATO can recruit and train new controllers, delays could become more severe and airport lines longer.
Airline industry officials are warning that the shortage will worsen and cause more flight cancellations, steeper airfares, and snarled air travel. With tight budgets and uncertainty over the FAA’s next long-term budget, it is unclear when or how the ATO might be able to make critical improvements. Airline executives are urging lawmakers to provide adequate funding to close the controller gap. Such action could include FAA training funds, tax incentives to attract new and veteran controllers, and additional personnel to reduce the overwhelming workload.
In the short-term, the FAA has taken some steps to address the staffing levels, such as partnering with commercial air carriers to move experienced air traffic controllers to stagnant locations as well as hiring retired controllers to assist with training new hires. However, these attempts to bridge the gap also face significant obstacles, like the long-term contracts between carriers and controllers.
Airline executives believe that an FAA-wide effort to address the air traffic controller shortage is vital to reducing delays and improving the airline industry overall, and many are calling on Congress to pass legislation to expedite the process and help build a long-term solution.