Is there an air traffic control staff shortage? | Soma Newsletter 2022
Published by: SOMA Team - - July 7, 2022

The Federal Aviation Administration and airlines are blaming one other for the delays and cancellations plaguing flying travelers this summer.

In a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last month, Airlines for America, a trade organization that advocates for the carriers, claimed that air traffic control staffing shortages in a few key hubs are leading to a significant amount of delays, even on some days with clear skies.

The FAA acknowledged that some centers had experienced difficulty this summer but claimed no significant nationwide staffing shortages.

  • Is there a staffing issue for air traffic control?

The FAA indicated in a statement sent via email to USA TODAY that there is not a system-wide shortage of air traffic controller staff members, despite staffing challenges that have existed at a few sites for a short period owing to COVID-19 and other causes. “We are not experiencing a higher attrition rate than anticipated, although COVID temporarily postponed some training,”

According to Bill Coyne, the program coordinator for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s air traffic management school, any controller shortages appear to be isolated incidents rather than signs of a more serious issue.

“You’d have to look at its facility by facility,” he said, adding that it can take years for a new air traffic controller to become fully qualified. Coyne said hiring more air traffic controllers would require more funding.

“I do believe the FAA is doing as best they can within the budget they have, the constraints they have there, to hire as many as they can,” he said.

  • What do problems with air traffic control mean for passengers?

Although human resources shortages in air traffic control are rarely the only reason for a delay, they can exacerbate other issues, such as weather delays, and prolong the time passengers are forced to wait on the ground.

According to the FAA’s statement, “Several reasons are contributing to air travel delays and cancellations.” “Convective weather is the main reason why airlines delay and cancel flights. The travel demand is second.”

A short-staffed tower may have to impose stricter limits due to summer thunderstorms or winter blizzards that cause air traffic controllers to restrict the number of flights permitted in the airspace they oversee.

By checking his airline’s website or app, Coyne said he tries to be informed of delays, and if things seem like they might go wrong, he swiftly seeks out alternatives.

I travel too, Coyne remarked. “In the Southeast, the weather is what I’m most worried about.”

  • What else is resulting in flight cancellations and delays this summer?

Although the FAA and many other industry experts contend that the airlines’ personnel levels are the more significant concern this summer, airlines continue to claim that the FAA’s staffing levels are a problem.

According to Courtney Miller, creator of aviation data analysis company Visual Approach Analytics, “the bottleneck is a lack of pilots.” That is the first restriction we are now running across.

As they attempt to match their schedules to the number of pilots and other professionals on their payrolls, airlines have been forced to curtail flights and even cancel service to some destinations this summer.


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