Aviation leaders warning about increase in flight delays

WASHINGTON — Aviation leaders are warning about an increase in flight delays. These problems may ramp up during the summer travel season and could be linked to a shortage of air traffic controllers.

Nationwide, the F.A.A. says it’s about 19 percent short of its staffing level goals for air traffic controllers. That means thousands of vacant jobs.

They’re trying to change that and protect from runway near-misses.

Cheryl Twyman is like most travelers, who when they fly, expect to get where they’re going on time. “For business, it might be a substantial impact on me and making a deal or not making a deal depending on how important it is for me to take the flight,” said Twyman. Making the flight could be more of a challenge this summer.

The latest data from the F.A.A. shows that as of September of last year, some airports are short of their goals of air traffic controllers. In May, the F.A.A has been on a push to hire more controllers nationwide. These are the people responsible for managing planes as they take off and land, guiding pilots, and monitoring planes in the sky.

The shortage is mostly due to aging controllers who are retiring and leaving jobs open. It comes after increased scrutiny of air traffic controllers and their role in near misses on airport runways.

We dug through F.A.A. data and found there have been 884 runway incursions for the first half of this fiscal year. In fiscal year 2022, the U.S. saw 1,732 close calls. That’s a similar number when comparing it to pre-pandemic flights.

Ryan French has been an air traffic controller for three years in California.

“We’re relying on the expertise of pilots and ourselves to make sure that these events don’t happen. And unfortunately, they do, but we do our best to minimize it,” said French.

Officials showed us where every air traffic controller goes to train for months in Oklahoma City before working in an airport tower. Much of their focus is on avoiding close calls.

The answer to fixing the shortage of air traffic controllers may come down to the funding in Washington. The President is calling for 117 million dollars to be used to hire 3,300 air traffic controllers starting this year.

“We’re getting them out as fast as we can,” said French.

Union leaders for air traffic controllers say the staffing numbers are at a 30-year low right now. It’s a problem that won’t be fixed in just one year.

They say we could see waves of problems for the next few years.

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