Airlines, FAA Play Blame Game Over Cancellations


Airlines have fired back at the FAA over chronic flight delays, saying staffing levels at some facilities are contributing to them. The agency has hit back, reminding the airlines just how much federal aid money was sent to them during the pandemic. Lobby group Airlines for America sent an open letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for a breakdown of staffing levels at FAA facilities for the July 4th weekend “so we can plan accordingly.” In the letter, AFA President Nicholas Calio said the industry is doing everything it can, including cutting about 15 percent of schedules, to ensure flights operate smoothly, but noted FAA staffing issues, particularly at Jacksonville Center, can cause chaos along the busy eastern corridor even in good weather.

The letter was in response to Buttigieg’s not-so-veiled threats that fines and sanctions could be coming for airlines if they don’t improve their performance. He said the Fourth weekend would be the acid test and the FAA wasn’t about to let the airlines have the last word as cancellations and delays continue with the long weekend fast approaching. “People expect when they buy an airline ticket that they’ll get where they need to go safely, efficiently, reliably and affordably,” the FAA said in a statement. “After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.”

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.

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  1. There is plenty of blame to go around here. From the airlines overselling to the FAA’s lack of managing resources with staffing at Jacksonville center. If I didn’t know better I could think that the staffing shortage at Jacksonville center is deliberate. Politics never come into play with FAA decisions!?

    • The airlines are in business to make money, pure and simple. If one million people want to go from Newark to Orlando and the airline has one million seats to sell they’re gonna fill them. The problem lies with the FAA’s rate of arrivals and departures which has been sorely lacking for about twenty years now.

      • Problem is the airlines have a habit of selling seats they don’t have. As far as arrival and departure rates, ADS-b was supposed to solve that issue, something we all know the FAA mandated, but gave extensions to the airlines.

        • I don’t know what other airlines do, but I read that Southwest ceased the practice of overselling years ago. Before the pandemic. I thought the change went industry-wide, but maybe not?

  2. My summer vacation, I have 4 choices. Drive, fly the 182, fly commercial, or take a train. I decided to drive. The rates went up for the 182. I can’t stand dealing with commercial flights and the rude people. And the train option, intriguing as it is, was slow and also expensive. As well as I want to go on my schedule. Not someone else’s.

    • Agreed. Unless driving extreme/impossible distances, the risk of a ruined vacation isn’t worth the time savings of the airlines. If my destination is within a 12 hour drive and if it’s critical that I get there, I generally drive instead of flying commercial.

  3. Buttigeig threatens fines–why not have a provision to fine or sanction the FAA for THEIR failure to perform? Controllers have been understaffed (How many controllers has the FAA certified in the last few years?) and is far behind the industry that it tries to regulate.

    Air travel is a partnership–airlines–the labor force (unions)–the government work force (unionized controllers) and the regulators. This isn’t the fault of any ONE of them, but ALL of them! You can”t solve the capacity problems without all being involved!

    • How dare you intimate that the FAA might have some culpability in the current air travel mess, Jim. But I’d bet that their customers wish they could find ‘em. Mayor Pete needs to get himself a mirror or do a selfie … 😳

  4. I’m curious what exactly Jax Center is doing or not doing that is causing all these delays and operational melt downs that airlines are experiencing. When I look at the misery map I don’t see either Tampa or Orlando on the map yet I believe both are in Jacksonville’s airspace. When I see pilots protesting at airports their signs and spokespersons blame their airline’s management for their operational issues, not Jacksonville Center. Central Florida and the Panhandle get lots of thunderstorms and with the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf on the other there is only so much airspace available for reroutes and vectoring around the weather. I’m sure Jax Center has some bad days, but it’s wrong to blame them for the operational meltdowns the airlines have been experiencing.

    • Without looking at a map, I’m not sure exactly where the southern boundary of Jacksonville Center airspace lies, but I can imagine that darn near every flight into or out of Florida must fly THROUGH the JAX control or else route as an overwater route offshore to the east or west.

      • I see Jax Center over Gainsville and Ormand Beach, so your assumption is correct. This is from the H-8 high altitude chart.

  5. Commercial airline delays and cancellations have gotten worse over the last 30 years I’ve been flying and I do wonder why. It seems to me that 5 – 10 years ago there was transition to more centralized control by the FAA and company scheduling departments. It seems like in the 90s pilots could make weather decisions themselves, carry more fuel if needed and plan alternates. We made it to our destinations most of the time. Now, we are lucky to make it to our destinations 50% of the time. Also, when there were delays, the airport staff knew what to do and could handle the passengers. Now when there are delays, the airport staff are in complete chaos, have no idea what to do and are completely clueless. Witness my wife’s flight yesterday from ORD to CLT. Rescheduled 9 times (not kidding), two aircraft taxied but failed to depart, 12 hours late and arrived at 2:54am. Yes there was an afternoon thunderstorm that past through the airport but it only lasted 10 minutes. Are the old experienced station managers all gone?

    Some years I would be airborne twice, three times a week. flown 2.5 million miles on commercial airlines over 30 years

  6. I’d like an explanation on JAX Center’s problems as well. I fly a corporate King Air–though based in Minnesota, we have business in Panama City, Fla. Lately, on departure from Panama City, we’ve had ground holds–ground control explains “JAX Center is overloaded due to traffic saturation–we can only allow one IFR departure every 5 minutes.” That often leads to a 30 minute delay before departure.

    I understand–Florida is a narrow peninsula–and many airliners are not approved or equipped for over-water flight out of gliding distance from land–(we hear Center ask if the airlines can accept an over-water routing)–but there MUST be a better way to manage the flow. In almost 60 years of flying, this is the first time I’ve heard the excuse that CENTER can’t handle the flow–I’ve heard DEPARTURE control limit departures, but not CENTER.

  7. What happened to ADS-b? Wasn’t this supposed to be the the thing to allow an increase in capacity? Or were we all sold a bill of goods on this!

  8. Looks like airline cancellations are happening again, just prior to July 4th weekend. This along with JAX center throttling back on flights handled.