Staff Shortages Prompt New York Ground Stop


Airlines scored a point in the losing game that is this summer’s air travel situation when the FAA had to admit that a ground stop at New York’s three major airports was because of staff shortages. The agency reduced traffic in the world’s busiest airspace, causing the predictable system-wide disruptions. For months, the agency and the airlines have been sparring about who should take the blame for a trying summer for many travelers. It’s a numbers game that will take time to resolve, says the head of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Union President Rich Santa told the Aero Club in Washington last month that everything from weather to the increase in space launches has disrupted the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. He said there are now 10 percent fewer controllers than there were 10 years ago when there should be 10 percent more. “Just like during sequestration and the 35-day government shutdown, the pandemic again forced FAA to suspend hiring and temporarily close its training academy,” Santa said. “This has negatively affected staffing.”

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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    • I think “the pandemic” is shorthand for covid closures, social distancing, masking which impeded communication, regular testing and rolling personnel unavailability.

      • I think you nailed it. The blame game has always been apolitical as the pandemic created world wide upheaval in every part of our lives. Covid-19 spreading and killing millions no different from influenza in 1918 killing millions except modern air travel spread covid-19 faster to disrupt the economy everywhere. Add to dissatisfaction in working conditions, indecision on masking and deliberately making covid-19 political brought us where we are today. Major disruptions in travel by rail, cruise ships or by air with companies attempting to deal fairly with a life and death pandemic no one wants. Returning back to normal before covid-19 shows the struggles in business as economic shortfalls appear everywhere. Recovering well be slower and the public isn’t happy about travel. Cutting back on scheduled airlines may be the interim solution to help ease demand as everyone wants to travel NOW. The airlines are creating some problems if they are not handling shortages in flight crews by attempting to fill planes without crews. Staffing shortages at airports including FAA controlling ground and air traffic may not be admitting to being overwhelmed with pandemic induced staffing issues. London is one of the first airports to reduce flight schedules due to staffing so this has to affect world wide travel until everyone accepts the reality of this pandemic affecting everyone and dealing with it. Pointing fingers gets old very quickly.

  1. “For months, the agency and the airlines have been sparring about who should take the blame for a trying summer for many travellers. ”

    Keeping a scorecard of the other side’s infractions generates a nice comprehensive list, but does nothing to address the problems. Ex. I had an ex-wife who thought the scorecard method would pressure me into doing things her way, all the time, but it just doesn’t work. Hence ex-wife.

    • The issues in NYC and Florida ARE an ATC a problem. The blame Mayor Pete keeps heaping on the airlines is just an attempt to cover for his own incompetence.

      • I didn’t realize he had a role in reducing the staff of the ATC centers…before he was even appointed to his position.

        • LOL. The problem is getting worse by the day under his watch. I know this because I regularly fly out of all 3 NY area airports from the left seat of an airliner. 12 months ago there was a real issue with weather before there were ground stops in NYC, now they occur regularly on clear sky days.

          Pete is incompetent and the new FAA administrator has no background in aviation except less than a year as the manager at Denver International, what could go wrong?

          • Quick, who was the Secretary of Transportation during the Trump administration? That’s right, Mrs Mitch McConnell. She and Mitch are millionaires, I wonder when was the last time she flew on a commercial airline? Of course her family shipping company did remarkably well while she was Secretary of Transportation, doing over 80 percent of its business with China. I guess it helps that she was born there. It’s a lot easier and faster to upgrade to captain on a jet than it is to checkout as a center controller. I don’t remember her addressing this issue, the upcoming pilot shortage or even the 5G fiasco while she was in charge. Of course she did give the airlines 50 billion dollars to make sure opinionated, know it all pilots, were paid even when they weren’t flying for months at a time, so I guess she
            can’t be all bad.

        • If you cannot fix the problems, don’t take the job. The secretary is responsible, and his solution appears to be blaming the victims.

      • If you think its solely an ATC problem not compounded by airlines incompetent scheduling you are living in a sheltered corner. Yes the ATC staffing is a very real issue that isnt going away for a very very long time. But its not the ONLY problem.

        • Oh and forgot to mention that most of the staffing problems revolve around a government still embracing the pandemic as some sort of cataclysmic life ending disease. They implemented mitigations that FORCE lower staffing to critical numbers if ONE person is contact traced within and area of specialty. My opinion and not that of the agency.

          • I wish I had the luxury of seeing Covid as anything other than a cataclysmic life ending disease, it has been just that for far too many people.

          • Seriously, “dot”? The reality, finally agreed upon by the scientists, is that very few people are now in danger of death. Those people are mostly long retired, or identifiable.

            For reasons of unions taking advantage and other political BS the Feds have dragged out this thing way past it’s due date.

            The luxury is all on the other side of this argument. TRILLIONS have been spent foolishly. That’s the people taking luxuries.

            Kevin’s remark was in bounds. The foul is on you, bro.

  2. Maybe the 87,000 new IRS agents can solve the problem!

    This has been an ongoing problem that only seems to be getting worse as Mayor Pete lies about the cause.

    • Exactly. I suspect I will soon get yet another slew of incorrect letters from the IRS threatening to seize tens of thousands I do not owe. Will these new 87,000 employees mean my phone call or letters will be answered?


      It’s a jobs bill at best, and simply hiring loyal thugs for some future fight at worst.

  3. I’ve done several TAC routes at 8000′ from LGA to DCA in an A320, and so have many others one other airlines. Not my favorite way to proceed… To say we were on high alert for traffic is an understatement. It was blamed on ‘ATC saturation’… this article is a better explanation.

  4. Important not to forget that the so-called pandemic and resulting irrational measures taken to slow its spread did nothing but bad. Even the CDC admits this. Had union and airline leadership stood up to government’s reckless handling of the so-called pandemic, this latest government-created mess would not have impacted the private sector in the way it did. How many government employees at the FAA, TSA and airports lost their government jobs during the so-called pandemic? I’d bet somewhere between zero and none.

  5. A union president cites staff shortages?
    Excuse me, but automation SHOULD have reduced staff by 10% over the last 10 years.
    That’s the whole point of automation.
    Hell, when was the last time you walked into a FSS and got a personal briefing?

    • Yeah, for once I agree with you. Automate the hell out of the system, eliminate as many humans as possible in ATC. Let a computer queue you up to land, it can do it more quickly than any human. With ADS-B, it will know where you are.
      Decades ago a system called “Free Flight” was tried in Alaska. Prolly shot down by the controller’s union.

  6. ATC staffing has always been the victim of the push for “smaller government” and shrinking budgets by a set percentage without actually analyzing the consequences. Even 10 years ago, my large TRACON had too few controllers per shift to staff all RADAR positions. Throughout each shift, we were forced to combine and de-combine RADAR positions that should have been left split due to volume, but we simply didn’t have the people due to congressionally mandated budgets and set controller workforce numbers.
    And while automation advances have assisted controllers in doing their jobs, and have maybe reduced the years needed to train new controllers, automation doesn’t talk on the radio.

    • What about ADS-B that everyone was forced by the FAA to equip at a cost of several thousands of dollars? The FAA sold that as a way to increase the amount of traffic handled. Beginning to sound like the FAA sold us another bill of goods!

      • Yeah..exactly WHO WAS IN CHARGE when we had to buy-in to ADS-B…?? was that “Mayor Pete”…? NO? Wonder who that was… Oh, Yah…MRS. McConnell! Trumps’ Administration.

    • “…automation doesn’t talk on the radio.”
      Perhaps inadvertently (?), you’ve hit a nail upon its head.
      If you set out to AUTOMATE an air traffic control system, why on Earth would you utilize a century-old paradigm of open-frequency verbal communications?
      It’s the equivalent of trying to improve carbon paper – at a cost of (endless) billions of dollars.

      Old YARSism: “The very best implementation of a flawed concept is, itself, fatally flawed.”

    • So what you are saying is ADSB was the wrong solution? I agree. Can we repeal the mandate now? Sounds like what we needed was email. Could have saved billions. Your read back could be, “On screen”.

      The big theme in the administrative branch has been totally non partisan. While every voter is watching the shiny fighting, every department has been rearranged to ensure they can report statistical success in their function with as little risk and effort as possible. Law enforcement and regulators don’t go after the worst offenders, they go after the easy, technical violations. Tough problems are ignored while departments make strides on diversity, environment, or other things that aren’t their department’s mandate. Powerful interests get avoided because multi year fights look like failing, and cost resources. It might not be so bad except all the other regular games to increase budget and headcount are still being played.

      So, would it be a bad guess that the reasons the airlines are not told they can have less departures from busy airports is that no one in the FAA wants to take the heat?

  7. We all know as well as the FAA why they moved a huge sector out of NY and into Philly. And ALL those space launches (???) in “New York” airspace are causing delays? Really? Don’t urinate on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Four hours “time-on-position” for an eight hour shift and you are short staffed. Please……

  8. Asshoel rich envrironmetn her on this thread, some dupe even tossed the IRS into the mix. Oh well, No Hitler remarks so were evenup