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Fri, Jan 05, 2024

Really? Airlines for America Points the Finger at Pt 91 for ATC Delays

Airline Lobbyist Says Tarmac Time Is All the Private Flight's Fault

Airlines for America sent off an end-of-year letter to Administrator Whitaker and Secretary Buttigieg requesting their institutional pull in reducing airline delays for the traveling public - and their aim? Reducing private traffic. Welcome to America... the land of the free... 

The letter is conspicuously absent from the A4A website, but copies of the December 27th missive made the rounds to the irritation of Part 91 and 135 operators around the country. A4A isn't a small-time lobbyist, either, representing American, Delta, United, Southwest, and a bevy of smaller Airlines. In the letter, chief Nicholas Calio gives kudos to the FAA's infrastructure workers for keeping pace throughout the holiday season, with nary a "meltdown" in sight despite frazzled and understaffed personnel around the country. After giving his respect, Calio moves on to finger-pointing:

"I want to call your attention to certain concerning air traffic control (ATC) conditions leading to operational challenges for A4A carriers during the holiday. Specifically, SIGNIFICANT NON-SCHEDULED AVIATION OPERATIONS (I.E., BUSINESS AND PRIVATE AVIATION VOLUME) ALONG WITH CONTINUED ATC STAFFING CHALLENGES HAVE DRIVEN INCREASED DELAYS AND CANCELLATIONS OVER THE HOLIDAY PERIOD." (That formatting is original, caps lock and all.)

As proof of his assertion, Calio uses Florida's Jacksonville Center, ZJX, as a case study in how private flyers throw a wrench in the well-greased transit machine.

"The unannounced volume increase was notably dramatic with Miami Center (ZMA), which projected December 27th to be the third busiest volume day on record going back to pre-1989. Jacksonville Center (ZJX) has also been managing tremendous private aviation volume necessitating traffic management initiatives (TMIs) often leading to delays lasting as long as two hours...The non-scheduled and inconsistent non-commercial operations create challenges for our carriers because flight plans are being filed at the latest points possible and some flights are changing destinations enroute. All of this creates operational uncertainty for our carriers and the entire National Airspace System."

A4A's solution? Well, there aren't really any good ideas enclosed in the letter, other than a nebulous appeal that authorities somehow wrangle freely traveling private citizens into some "better" arrangement.

"A4A requests the Administration take all possible actions to find the appropriate balance between commercial and private aviation traffic with the goal of minimizing delays and cancellations for the traveling public. Additionally, A4A requests that all possible steps be taken to avert additional staffing triggers, particularly in high-volume centers."

Unsurprisingly, pretty much every non-airline entity in the system is chapped. Private travel, whether Part 91 or even Part 135, is a drop in the bucket compared to commercial air carriers, and those who are well-heeled enough to fly into the same airports as the big guys are probably not the clientele cross-shopping economy class tickets to begin with. Those with a longer memory recall the 2022 traveling fiasco, and reminded friends that A4A blamed the Department of Transportation for similar delays then, too. It remains true, by their own slick powerpoints, that the FAA is shorthanded by about 3,000 controllers at the moment, despite having "thousands" in the training pipeline.

Chances are, the industry will get some enjoyable tit-for-tat drama out of the ensuing statements. Next up, the business aviation side will fire its own volley. From there, we just might have some fun watching a press duel between A4A and... pretty much everyone else in the industry. Let's just see how that works out... 

FMI: www.airlines.org

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