The Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA) expressed concern about staffing levels at air traffic control centers.
The group pointed to a center in Jacksonville and said it had been 27 understaffed in the past 30 days.
The government said it will expand the workforce at the center, which has reportedly welcomed 30 new employees as of June.
A lobby group of US airlines is calling on the federal government to crack down on air traffic control personnel ahead of the busy July 4 holiday weekend.
In a letter sent Friday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Airlines for America said one of its member airlines estimates air traffic control (ATC) problems have contributed to at least a third of recent U.S. flight cancellations. The letter was viewed by Insider.
The stat comes after chaotic important holiday weekends in May and June; more than 35,000 flights were disrupted over the weekend of Juneteenth†
A4A partially blamed staffing levels, saying that ATC shortages “have led to traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions”.
The group specifically pointed to the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Florida, which has been understaffed for 27 in the past 30 days, according to the Air Line Pilots Association. The facility monitors air traffic in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North and South Carolina, and monitors approximately 250 military and civilian airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
In May, the FAA met airlines to discuss the issues, and the agency pledged to “immediately increase the number of authorized employees at the Jacksonville Center and evaluate other Florida facilities.”
According to a source familiar with the FAA’s hiring plan, 30 new controllers were hired at the center on June 17. local Jacksonville news channel News4JAX reported:† The FAA confirmed to Insider that additional controllers have been added to the team in Jacksonville, but did not provide a specific number.
The agency also said in a comment that there is “no system-wide shortage of air traffic controllers” and that the driving factor for Florida delays and cancellations is convection weather and demand to travel to the state. Moreover† the agency said there will be no space launch over the weekend of July 4 and that it has “added alternative routes and placed more controllers in high-demand areas.”
Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that hiring is a major challenge for the FAA because of the lengthy process, which includes interviews, training and drug testing. However, he said the agency needs to do a better job recruiting young people.
The FAA has made efforts in recent weeks to find more candidates, including the launch of its “Be ATC” campaign to “employ the next generation of air traffic controllers”. The application process is open on 24 June until: eligible US citizensbut the opportunity is only open until June 27th.
Other ATC centers in the US have also had problems. John Lucia, an officer with the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, told CNBC that thunderstorms threatened to impede traffic at Dallas/Fort Worth and Dallas Love Field airports.
In the meantime, United CEO Scott Kirby said in an interview with Bloomberg that ATC staff at its Newark Liberty International Airport hub caused significant flight disruptions†
“We recently had weekends where [ATC] has less than 50% staff and the controllers are working their hardest to be successful,” he said. “But if you’re at 50% staff with 89 operations on schedule and they had us on a perfectly blue sky day at 36 operations per hour it’s a nightmare for customers, for employees, for the airlines.”
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