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Sat, Aug 13, 2022

FAA Denies Culpability in Flight Delays and Cancellations

Agency Downplays ATC Understaffing

Summertime holiday-makers are apt to remember 2022 not for the exotic lands and balmy climes they visited, but for the agonies they endured trying to reach their destinations aboard understaffed airlines directed about by equally understaffed TRACONs and ARTCCs. In a very real and acutely painful sense, the American National Airspace system has come to bear an uncanny metaphorical resemblance to the Vegas Strip on New Year’s Eve in the midst of a taxi-driver strike—all urgency and no action amidst a great deal of lost money and suppressed panic.

Lamentations over an ostensible pilot shortage have echoed through 2022’s gloom like the howls of a neurotic spaniel. Whether or not such a dearth of pilot talent exists is a matter of opinion. Pilot training academies and airline analysts opine the airline industry is teetering on oblivion’s brink for want of pilots. The world’s largest, most powerful pilots union, ALPA, asserts that credentialed aviators exist in perfectly adequate numbers that are consistently refreshed by the traditional avenues of civilian and military flight training.

Notwithstanding bitter disagreement over the state and sustainability of pilot populations, aviation pundits are united in their pronouncements of a dire insufficiency of air traffic controllers.

In a recent speech, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) president Rich Santa alleged the FAA is failing to hire new controllers at a rate commensurate with existing need. "In 2011, there were over 11,750 Certified Professional Controllers and additional trainees yielding over 15,000 total controllers on board at the FAA," Mr. Santa remarked. "By the beginning of 2022, there were more than one-thousand fewer fully-certified controllers, and 1,500 fewer total controllers on board, a number that has declined for at least the past 11-years."

The FAA refuted Mr. Santa’s position, however, maintaining its hiring goals are in line with target figures. In a statement to the press, the agency averred: "The FAA annually hires new air traffic controllers, and is on target to meet our hiring goal this year, and is reducing the backlog of training caused by COVID-19.”

The FAA’s claims did little to dissuade Airlines for America (A4A), an industry group representing major U.S. airlines, from penning a letter to Congress, in which the organization expressed solidarity with Mr. Santa and the NATCA, stating in part: "Specifically, air carriers are taking great care to reduce their summer flight schedules while also accelerating efforts to hire and train new employees to meet the strong resurgence in travel demand … The FAA must also work to ensure that the air traffic control system is capable of meeting demand."

The FAA—after the fashion of unelected, insular bureaucracies—refuted A4A’s contention, declaring that its data indicates flight delays and cancellations are attributable to causes other than understaffed air traffic control facilities.

In 2022, the FAA received 57,000 applications for air traffic controller positions. The agency plans to hire 1,500.

FMI: www.airlines.org

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