Airlines Blame GA For Holiday Flight Delays


Airlines say GA traffic caused some of the relatively few flight delays travelers experienced over Christmas and wants regulators to “find the appropriate balance between commercial and private aviation traffic” to prevent that from happening. Meanwhile, the National Business Aviation Association says airlines should stop scapegoating general aviation for flight delays.

On Friday, air carrier lobby group Airlines4America wrote the FAA and Department of Transportation blaming increased GA traffic for delays in Florida and an unspecified “issue” in the Northeast and at other destinations across the country. The letter is copied below. “It’s unfortunate that the airlines appear to be prioritizing finger-pointing over facts when it comes to causes for aviation system delays because the fact is, delays are most often caused by weather and the practices of the airlines themselves,” NBAA spokesman Dan Hubbard said.

In the letter, A4A slapped its members and the FAA on the back for “strong performance” over the holiday period but said some of the few glitches that appeared can be attributed to GA and its spontaneous nature. It noted Jacksonville Center invoked traffic management initiatives that caused two-hour delays and said “tremendous private aviation volume” was to blame. “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,” the A4A letter says. “All of this creates operational uncertainty for our carriers and the entire National Airspace System (NAS).”

Hubbard said numerous analyses have shown that GA traffic isn’t a big factor in aviation system delays. “Let’s stick to the facts, and continue to build on the actual work being done by all parties to preserve our nations’ leadership in aviation, and ensure that it works for everyone who relies on it,” Hubbard said.

A4A says it’s all for working together but it also wants the regulators to do something about the impact of GA on scheduled operations. “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 travelling public,” the letter said. A4A also urged the FAA to continue to address staffing issues at ATC facilities and to “avert additional staffing triggers, particularly in high volume centers.”

AOPA Senior VP Jim Coon said it’s an example of the airlines looking for others to blame to escape scrutiny themselves. “We need to get the facts. Most are tired of the airlines game of blaming everyone but themselves for delays,” Coon told AVweb.  “Last time they said delays were caused by DOT and now, again, they point fingers elsewhere. It would be more productive for them to spend their efforts on becoming part of the solution instead of complaining.”

The FAA told Reuters, which first reported the letter, that airlines and GA, along with other stakeholders, “have a seat at the Command Center, where the FAA monitors the airspace 24/7 and gives updates every two hours.” It also said it’s working on the staffing issues.

The full text of the A4A letter (original signed by A4A CEO Nicholas Calio) is below:

Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Administrator Whitaker:

Given our mutual focus of reducing delays and cancellations for the travelling public, I want to thank the FAA for their efforts to ensure the safe and efficient operations of the National Airspace (NAS) over this holiday period. As a result of our combined efforts, Airlines for America (A4A) carriers are reporting strong operational performance during the holiday season. However, 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.

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. Private aviation volume has been noted as an issue in the northeast, impacting several of the busiest airports in the country, as well as multiple additional destinations throughout the country. 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 (NAS).

Additionally, we have seen ATC staffing challenges at key centers over the holiday travel period. ZMA issued a staffing trigger on December 27th, which had been projected to be one of the busiest volume days in history. We continue to see staffing triggers at New York Center (ZNY) and in other centers throughout the nation, particularly on the west coast.

The combination of increased private aviation volume and unpredictability along with continued ATC staffing challenges cannot be looked at as singular issues or only impacting certain regions. Our carriers run national networks and delays or cancellations in one part of the country have reverberating impacts to the travelling public throughout the nation.

Our carriers report the FAA is taking steps to work through these challenges and we appreciate those efforts. The FAA’s Command Center has worked closely with carriers to mitigate the impacts and their performance is appreciated. However, we believe more action can be taken.

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 travelling public. Additionally, A4A requests that all possible steps be taken to avert additional staffing triggers, particularly in high volume centers.

Thank you for your partnership in delivering operational excellence in the NAS on behalf of the traveling public. A4A carriers stand ready to work with you to address ongoing challenges.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Blame GA. Right. They have pretty much run off GA from every class B airport. Class C isn’t too far behind…

  2. Waaahh, Waaahh, Waaahh… If the airlines weren’t so darn lousy about doing their job maybe all of those private fliers might consider flying the airlines. Who the the heck wants to fly with a bunch of cannibals as it currently exists?

  3. “on behalf of the traveling public” was stated 5 times above.

    Excuse me, but GA is also the traveling public.

  4. I didn’t realize that the airlines “owned” the airspace. (sarcasm)

    Perhaps there should be the aeronautical equivalent of highway “bus lanes”–(airliners only). Most GA aircraft avoid the major hubs anyway DUE TO THE CONGESTION CAUSED BY THE AIRLINE SCHEDULING.

    A further benefit would be that since the major hubs would be the exclusively used by the airlines, that those hubs be FUNDED by the airlines. It would be interesting to see a list of the percentages of operation at the major hubs that are General Aviation.

    • I imagine that the limited resource is runways, not airways. Highway “bus lanes” therefore would not help much, if the constraint is takeoff and landing capacity.

  5. Flights are handled “first come, first served”. The airlines have entire staffs that take care of filing flight plans well ahead of time. GA, since most flights are unscheduled, get whatever is left, making the airlines argument disingenuous. Since the airlines were allowed to delay installing ADS-B equipment, and GA was not, maybe the airlines should get fully equipped so that this so-called increase in traffic volume can be handled as was promised when the FAA mandated ADS-B in the first place.

    • Exactly what I would have said.
      First come first served is a respected principal. Just because a bunch of people throw money into a hat and form an airline with a logo on the tail doesn’t mean that it should have priority over Matt W in his Cessna.
      I remember a lady remarking how she was delayed on her United flight from SFO to ORD because the plane had to let a little plane depart. It’s a sentiment of entitlement due to the passenger having paid for transportation.
      I’ve worked for two airlines and now the business model is broken. The recent huge fine against SouthWest proves that.

      • “Sense of entitlement due to the passenger having paid for transportation.” When I fly my own airplane, am I not also paying for transportation?

      • This isn’t about the Matt with a Skylane, it’s about the Matt with a Citation. Turbine owners very happily use piston GA owners to bolster their numbers after getting the tax rules changed on business use to favor corporate flight departments and charters over owner flown pistons.
        There’s no organization in these conversations actually representing piston GA, and there has not been in 30 years.

  6. While I understand the concerns raised by A4A, I hope this isn’t the start of a plot to undermine General Aviation (GA). A la Richard M. Daley.

  7. Is A4A talking about small jets when referring to GA? It’s nearly impossible for single engine piston to get cleared into Bravo airspaces when ATP traffic is busy. The airlines already get preferential treatment and priority.

    It’s difficult to get clearance through the VFR flyways around SFO the controllers are so busy. The airlines get right through. What’s the gripe? Probably politics like Raf said above.

    • Yes. This is about charters and corporate jets. Piston aviation is pretty much excluded from THEIR airspace and THEIR facilities already.

      More and more I believe we just need to make all the public airports private and apply the same rules to all of them. So when Karen doesn’t want an airport in her city she can be out voted by people who want to be modern.

      We also need to put them on fuel taxes instead of ticket taxes.

  8. Pure dung on the part of the Airlines and A4A.
    As usual, not based on facts but spirits fueled nonsense.
    Power play by the Airlines via A4A to create false disinformation so as to justify the Airlines dismal performances of recent years, Southwest meltdowns, etcetera and to create an excuse to circumvent FAA and DOT fines imposed upon the Airlines for their dismal performances.

  9. Remember this next time “let’s privatize ATC!” comes up. The #1 goal of the airlines will be to have predominant control of the system.

  10. Well, this is rich. Go any well-used airport and see how effort has been put in for airline compared to GA. Gates, parking, runways for miles, fuel trucks and all manner of facilities all is primarily for the airlines. Now, it seems that the airlines are blaming GA for airlines who can’t otherwise monopolize the skies, too.

    I’ve flown hundreds, thousands of times into majpr GA airports and the vast majority of aircraft going in and out are airlines, not some guy in Cessna 182, Barons or some business jet. If possible, GA would avoid the largest airports only because its unweildy and time-consuming. I would think major airports are more of a last resort or only choice for many GA aircraft. Oh, the airline do create their own rush hours, just like cars.

    No, the majors and the regionals don’t dictate the sky, too. If they want a fight, they’ll have it,

  11. Here in the UK, GA has the lowest priority and CAT the highest. We accept that, because it has ever been thus. There is some logic to expecting two guys in an Arrow to give way to a taxiing Airliner with two hundred aboard and burning far more fuel, even at idle. We also have reserved bus lanes on our roads, so that high-density transport has priority over cars. I am not saying this to argue for a change in the USA, but just to offer a balancing perspective. In general, I think people ought not to give up rights they currently enjoy, because they will never get them back. Happy New Year!

  12. Sounds like airlines aren’t paying high enough landing fees. Right now airport and gate access is one of the only constraints for airline growth. Maybe stratospheric fees (of which the FAA would take a healthy slice off the top) or higher excise taxes would help them focus on what flying is really profitable and finance NextGen. Aircraft under 12,500 lb should be exempt.

  13. A4A are either ignorant or purposely creating misinformation so they can exploit the NAS.
    Their focus is GA part 91, specifically the Jets shown in the photo.
    “Last minute filing” ? First come first serve, so no cheating as they might imply.
    “Changing routes” ? ATC will approve or deny that based on safety 🛟🦺
    A4A needs to state clearly the facts of the matter rather than vaguely blaming ZMA/ ZNY, low and slow traffic is not mentioned purposely.

  14. “National Airspace System”. Not a “Federally controlled system for the money making airlines”. It is open to all and they have to work in it also, not control it.

  15. As Yogi said, “this is déjà vu all over again!” A4A (or ATA as it was known back then), was arguing the SAME EXACT THING when I started working for NBAA literally in the last millennia! Any time they could they whined about “private” aviation causing their own scheduling delays – just how many airliners can you depart +/- 5 min on the hour anyway? A4A and your not good friends at Reason Foundation constantly argue for privatization as the cure for what ails the NAS solely so they could control and push out GA. Death, taxes, and “it’s GA’s fault!

  16. Really great, a suck up letter to ‘mayor Pete’ Buttigieg to give the incompetent administrator ammunition to blame somebody for FAA problems.

    • The beginning of the letter (“Dear Secretary Buttigieg…”) is a perfect indication of the “friendship” between A4A and the actual administration, that put the interests of airlines in front of all the others users of NAS, forgetting the the National Air is our Air Space, not the airlines airspace and the airlines, as taxpayers, are just a very, very small part of the Americans taxpayers.

    • It’s all class warfare being used strategically. In the end, piston GA loses. The airlines have effectively captured the public support having made it incredibly hard to fly yourself. The powerful people will always find a way to keep their privilege. The guys paying for their own way then get screwed.

  17. Unbelievable! No concrete facts. I’m a retired commercial pilot and I spend a lot of time circumventing Seattle’s Class B airspace in order to fly from the San Juan Islands to Pierce County and back. SEATAC is literally smack dab in the middle of a direct routing. To go IFR doesn’t help any because as a small GA aircraft I get a clearance outside that airspace. The few times I fly into SEA IFR I have always been vectored without interference to Air Carriers. I’m sorry, A4A’s stance on this is totally unfounded. I doubt many of its members own general aviation aircraft. Smacks of elitism.

    • Exactly. Fly IFR in a piston and you simply get routed away from the airline’s airspace unless it’s 2AM.

  18. Perhaps the airlines should look in the mirror. I am a retired airline pilot. I had 37 years with a major airline. The last few years, especially with and since Covid, service has been terrible. All air lines are on par the bus service now. I used to enjoy traveling on passes, not any more. I now fly my own private airplane as often as possible. I do understand that an airliner burns more fuel per minute than my plane does in an hour and always defer to them when I can. The airlines are their own worst enemy!

    • Don’t leave out the travesty of the TSA, an agency originally established for the sole purpose of making the American public feel like the government was doing something to make commercial flying safe from nefarious actors. The inconveniences and indignities suffered in the name of safety have been largely ineffective despite the claims of “finds” we see in the press. Talk to someone on the inside at TSA and ask about the statistics from their internal screening tests and assessments and you’ll be shocked by how much goes undetected. Unfortunately the data is classified as “official use only” or higher and unavailable to the public. And TSA screening has been normalized and accepted as a necessary way of doing business without any publicly available data that I’ve been able to find on quantifiable effectiveness.

      Where this fits in to the A4A claims is it’s much the same – an apparent emotional argument without the benefit of supporting data. If A4A has the data we’d love to see it and be proven wrong, as that would be a starting place for actually assessing and mitigating the issue as needed, or not wasting our time on something that won’t make any difference. And as a previous poster pointed out, conflating inconvenience as a driver for government regulation is just frightening. This appears to be one more case of “follow the money” to find the core driver for the A4A push, and the theory of the root cause being airline fine avoidance appears to hold water.

  19. I wonder how the “Travelling Public” would respond to and announcement by DOT that, as of now, all interstate highways are reserved for only over-the-road trucks, due to supply chain issues?

  20. Using Surrogates To Push The Blame, Part 1 – Burt Lancaster as “Mel Bakersfield”, 1970: “Where were you when the airlines and the pilots and the rest of us were pleading for more airports and better traffic control? You were picking out the colors in the ladies’ lounge. So now you’ve got your consequences, congested air traffic where Sunday pilots hold up airliners with thousands of people aboard and force us to stack up planes bound for New York as far away as Denver.”

    Airlines as “A4A”, NYE 2023: “It’s them BushWahZee again! Help us Pete! Can you hear us, Pete? PEEEETE!”

  21. 3 years ago, we were at a small airport north of Austin, Texas on December 27th with our TBM and were going to fly back to Vero Beach, Florida. I filed an IFR flight plan the night before, for a specific take-off time, climbed in the plane fired it up and called for our clearance, we were told that we were on a three hour hold, and I checked back an hour later and they did not update it but we sat ready to go and exactly three hours later they let us go– when things get like this, the “GA” airplanes are held too, maybe we should form a group to complain— dan

    • I’ve seen this at CLT also. In bound to CLT, the PC-12 I was flying was held at CHS almost every flight when we called for our clearance. If anyone was delayed it was GA.

  22. At what airport destinations? What Altitudes? When they refer to “GA” are they lumping all of us non pressurized PISTON operators into the group? Sorry Airlines, most of us want to stay far away from the airports you serve. Airliners carry more fuel, yet piston powered GA aircraft operating below 10,000’ get vectored miles around airline traffic putting is at risk. We could always decide not to file IFR, going VFR squawking 1200 without a flight plan. Be a bit more specific in your complaint !

  23. Who causes the most destruction when a accident occurs…GA or Airlines? What are the causes of the biggest aviation disasters on record…I don’t believe it’s GA!

  24. Instead of blaming GA, perhaps they should blame who is really at fault. The FAA itself. Their lack of effective management of future infrastructure projects is just one failure. Their lack of effective Airline management is another. Example, allowing Southwest for one, to muddle along with antiquated ineffective soft and hardware. When the tumble it then puts a huge burden on the system as the struggle to recover. They have to fit their late departures into the system causing long EDIC times for others.
    If the POI’s were given the mandate from above to actually regulate the airlines, much could be accomplished. Instead POI’s end up kissing the rear of politically connected airline managers and ignoring obvious problems.

  25. How much more can our aviation system handle when it’s already exceeding blivit parameters? Infrastructure, manpower and other resources are overtaxed, and really, how many flights does one need between LAX and NYC? An implosion is inevitable, and I hope to be watching it from a 1,000 feet over the expansive class G in my area (until, of course, Class A is lowered to the floor from coast to coast…).

  26. As a management consultant confronting a business “problem”, we were taught to ask the 5 whys. Usually about the fourth “why” we would arrive at the root of the problem. When the client stated the “problem”, it was always the symptom not the problem. Trying to fix a symptom always resulted in more problems. Also, I flew a ton of miles on the airlines and witnessed the decline of the airlines from the view of a pilot passenger. Let’s ask the first “why”. Why do the airlines have a “congestion” problem?

    I’ll save space here by cutting to the root cause. The root problem is the lack of experienced management a the airlines. They simply do not have the experience or the tutelage to deal with congestion and weather.

    The other root problem is centralization. In the “good ole days”, pilots made flight and weather decisions. Now a central office with inexperienced personnel make the decisions.

    Why did the airlines centralize operations? I’m not sure of the answer. Lack of trust?

    What is observable is that when the airlines “merged” they took on a huge amount of debt which needed to be repaid. This resulted huge pressure to reduce costs. You can see this by maintained being moved from the US to offshore facilities and reducing staff by firing experienced personnel.

    • I don’t know why anyone with half a brain would want to be in airline management. I think you need to keep peeling the onion to get to the root cause.

  27. The problem lies at the FAA’s feet. And that is Contoller staffing or rather lack thereof. I’m a retired airline Captain with 38 years experience. I have several friends who are retired or current controllers. The FAA totally mismanaged hiring before, during and after covid. Now, they are critically short staffed in every ATC facility. And it will take many years to recover.

    As far as the A4A argument about Florida delays, JAX center has ALWAYS been a choke point for traffic to and from South and Central Florida. I am wondering if this latest problem is all the folks who can afford to fly their own jet or buy a Net Jets (or similar) fractional ownership going to FL for the holidays? Several recent retirees I know are now employed by several different companies doing that line of work.

    But hey, first come, first served!

  28. I notice that:
    1) The (dis?)respectable Mr. Calio states that the “unannounced volume” increased to the point that made him cry. But he had not stated any STATISTCS of actual traffic numbers, sliced by altitude, specific airport usage, etc.

    I think that even Mr. Calio will agree that the effect of a Cherokee landing at Craig is kind of minor (or more specifically non-existent) on traffic landing in JAX. And at 3500′ the Tiger is not really much of an issue to your 737 in the flight levels. Yes, en-route are talking to ATC but they are often separated by sectors and frequencies so that this also is a non-issue (except maybe for emergencies). So, let’s call that BS1.

    I agree that a C172 on approach may cause unusually longer separation on a trailing airliner(s). I also suspect that the number of C127’s that landed in KMIA, KMCO, and KJAX together during the holiday period was not so high that more than two airliners had to do S turns, and personally, I wonder if that many. Therefore Mr. Calio, please provide numbers. If not, let’s call that BS2.

    En-route? How many jets in all are in the airways, and how many of those are your GA? Are you taking about AIRWAY CAPACITY? Again, show me in numbers where airways capacity is an issue en-route. BS3.

    On the climb and descent? The jets you cry about fly at the same speed as yours. Just another airline on the way. again, please in numbers Mr. Calio, or leave that as BS4.

    On the ground? Your guys have gates, tractors, fuel facilities, offices, cargo handling space and equipment, and what not. GA has… an FBO somewhere away from you and your stuff. Well, maybe two. Which makes BS5.

    In short – Not bears, nor beavers, not cats nor wolfs (despite your crying wolf). Unless you provide specific numbers and cases, you provided at least 5 BS’s.

    The only thing I can find that is correct is the need for more ATC staffing, as well as (my addition) the political hacks that play hockey with the FAA budget. Yes, this does and will continue to hurt predictability and stability. So aim your fire at them – they voluntarily ran to be elected, get paid and be useless.

  29. Where are the data that show GA traffic to be unpredictable? Unscheduled for certain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean unpredictable.

  30. Reasons: Shortage of flight crews, shortage of maintenance personnel, and shortage of scheduling and other staff all caused by the firing of airline employees who refused the get the poke during COVID. Airline management can stop blaming GA. The problem they have is the guy (gal) looking back at them in the mirror.

  31. (Has this kind of FAA help and understanding stopped yet?)

    Mid ’70s GADO pilot briefing in Anniston about new TCAs: “No, we never plan to have more than 6 of them.”

  32. Stop calling the corporate jets GA. GA in most minds say the little guys. And percentage wise in this issue’s total scheme of things, the little guys (any single engine basically) don’t contribute to any of it. Reclassify the non airline turbo props and jets something else. My Aeronca is GA. They are not.

  33. I worked at the UA SFO maintenance base starting in 1965. The airport at that time consisted of four runways. Years later I was employed as a pilot for that airline and often flew into SFO which still had only four runways. Now 17 years retired from flying UA aircraft, SFO has the same number of runways as in 1965.

    I used to tell my passengers while holding over SCK and seeing SFO wide open in clear and sunny conditions that we are holding due to the simple fact, you can’t get 10 pounds into a five pound bag. The airlines can’t seem to grasp this concept and consistently try to increase their flights into and out of infrastructure limited airports.

    • Worse yet, Hans, they all want to use those limited runways at the same time. Everyone schedules around the “prime” time slots to garner the most passengers. Just look at the number of passenger jets lined up waiting for takeoff during the rush hours. Under those conditions even minor disruptions pile on to result in delays for everyone. Blaming it on “GA” is just an attempt to scapegoat someone else for their own inefficient operations.

  34. What a load of crap. It seems like airlines are spending more on lobbying and marketing than on their service nowadays. Just another attempt for the airlines to shift the blame.

    P.S. zjx might have better staffing if natca did its job and actually did something good for its controllers

  35. I happened to be flying on the 26th through Atlanta Center and heard the controller tell a GA airplane “you can’t get flight following through Jacksonville Center at all.”
    Clearly the FAA can’t guarantee enough controllers to handle the load. Here’s a proposal: user fees for class A airspace. Determine the number of flights that can be safely handled by each sector per hour, and make the airlines bid for those slots. A certain percentage can be reserved for part 91/135 operators. Medevac flights will be exempt.
    The bidding system will ensure that the most crowded sectors and times of day will charge the highest prices for slots.

  36. General Aviation continues to die a death by a thousand cuts. This is the epitome of the definition of BULL$HIT.

  37. Seems their complaints are all centered on the centers which says they think A airspace is the scarce resource. For “us” down here below that should never be a factor. Seems their main complaint is with the jet set not the rest of GA.