Airline industry executives say that the ongoing shortage of air traffic controllers won’t lighten up any time soon, and passengers can expect travel disruptions for what could be the next five years, CNN reported.
On Tuesday, airline executives gathered in Washington D.C. for the Global Aerospace Summit held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where Airlines for America chief Nick Calio said that “it will take five to seven years [of hiring] to break even if all goes well.”
In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with CNN that air traffic control in the U.S. is facing a staffing shortage of nearly 3,000 positions.
“The (staffing) gaps that we’ve seen have built up over years,” he said at the time.
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Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines, noted that the shortage of controllers becomes particularly evident when airlines are trying to recover from disruptions caused by adverse weather conditions.
“The same weather that in the past we could have managed through now can cause hundreds of delays or hundreds of even cancelations,” Kirby said.
To be an air traffic controller in the U.S., one must complete a certification course through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but Calio said that even if the agency were to employ the maximum number of controllers who graduate from its single certification program, it still “would not be enough” for a swift recovery.
In order to alleviate the problem, Calio proposed allowing universities with air traffic controller programs to offer certification courses, an option available at schools in other countries.
Calio also is asking major U.S. airlines to encourage the FAA to reduce flight levels at major New York-area airports, which currently face the most severe understaffing.
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In March, the FAA had requested airlines to decrease summer flights by 10% at airports like Newark, John F. Kennedy, and LaGuardia, extending the policy into October last month.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes stated at the summit that a 10% reduction might not suffice, and emphasized the importance of advanced notice from the FAA about its plans, as it would enable airlines to reallocate resources to operate at alternative airports.
The average annual pay for an air traffic controller in the U.S. is $56,271, according to Indeed.